A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Small Damages is narrated by pregnant, 18-year-old Kenzie, who's packed off to Spain while her friends, including the baby's father, are enjoying a long-planned summer at the Jersey Shore. Besides the issue of unplanned teen pregnancy, the narrative, which is directed at Kenzie's unborn daughter, explores other adult themes -- the Spanish Civil War and its atrocities, bullfighting, the death of parents, parent-child conflict, love gone wrong -- and has occasional crude language ("butt," "big-ass"). The complex characters, their intertwining stories, and author Beth Kephart's luminous writing keep this book intriguing and emotionally satisfying.
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What's the story?
It's the summer of 1996, which 18-year-old Kenzie had planned to spend with her four BFFs at the Jersey Shore after their high-school graduation. But instead, her friends -- including boyfriend Kevin -- are at the shore while Kenzie's what-will-people-think mom has sent her off to Spain to live with friends of friends until the baby she's carrying, fathered by Kevin, is born and adopted by a Spanish couple. SMALL DAMAGES, Kenzie's story of that summer as told to her daughter, finds her learning new things and discovering new possibilities among the people and places she gets to know during her trip.
Is it any good?
This could well have been a minefield of clichés and preachiness, like so many other books involving teen pregnancy, but Beth Kephart creates characters and events that feel right and ring true. Just as in real life, people are complicated, not just personifications of good or bad; even as Kevin abandons her and their child, Kenzie remembers all the great things he did that used to make her happy. Kephart's colorful descriptions of Seville and the Spanish countryside, as seen through Kenzie's eyes, reveal her unabashed love for the place.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Kenzie's so determined to keep her baby, despite a mother and a boyfriend who just want the whole problem gone. Do you think Kenzie was right to go along with her mom's insistence that she not tell any of her friends what's going on or the real reason she was going to Spain?
How does the treatment of teen pregnancy in Small Damages differ from how you've seen it explored in other books and movies?
What do you think about bullfighting? Did anything in this book give you a different perspective on it?
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