By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Luminous story of pregnant teen's summer in Spain.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will learn much about Spain, its people, culture, history, and cooking. There's a fair amount of dialogue in Spanish, usually translated or with a meaning that's clear in context. Kenzie also quotes her English teacher's insight about the importance of pronouns, as when Kevin, informed that Kenzie's pregnant, says, "What are your choices?": "The pronouns will tell you the story. It's I or it's us. It's we or it's them."
There's a strong message of love and family bonds in Kenzie's bond with her baby, whom she sees as a connection to her beloved, recently deceased father. As characters' stories are revealed, tales emerge of faithful devotion, wise and not-so-wise choices, and people looking out for each other in good times and bad. There are also messages about teen pregancy and taking responsibility for your actions.
Positive Role Models
Kenzie's smart, strong, loved her father, and shares his passion for the camera. She also learns a lot from the people she meets in Spain, who have stories and heroic qualities of their own. Estela the cook is a better mother to Kenzie than her own mom; ranch owner Miguel protects Kenzie and tries to make her life easier; Esteban, the young man who takes care of the horses, shows her that some guys stick around when things are hard. Her late father, seen in many recollections, was a strong positive influence and pursued his work as a photographer despite much pressure to do something more lucrative and prestigious.
Violence & Scariness
One character slaps another in a jealous outburst; some Spanish characters recall atrocities in the Spanish Civil War without recounting much gore. Miguel raises bulls for the bullring and every year sends his six favorites to their deaths; Esteban's late father was a matador, killed in the bullring.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Obviously sex was involved in the fact that Kenzie is now pregnant, but it's not explicitly described. Kenzie starts having romantic feelings for a young man in Spain, and they spend time together, but there's no implication that they're having sex.
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Occasional crude language, such as "butt" and "big-ass."
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Products & Purchases
Brand names are occasionally mentioned as part of atmospheric description -- e.g. the friends taking drinks from a Kmart cooler at the beach.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults drink wine and other alcoholic beverages, especially in Spain.
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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?
- Author: Beth Kephart
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, History, Horses and Farm Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Philomel
- Publication date: July 19, 2012
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 12, 2017
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