Summer in Spain: ‘Small Damages’ by Beth Kephart

Here in Young Adult Education, we’ve read lots of books that involve experiences in foreign countries, but they usually involve boarding schools or summer vacations or class trips. They don’t typically involve a pregnant girl whose mother forces her to spend the summer in Spain.

This super-unconventional plot is one of the ways that Beth Kephart’s Small Damages is unlike any YA book I’ve ever read. Kenzie should be gearing up to spend one last summer with her friends before they head off to college. But when she gets pregnant, her mother ships her off to Spain, where she’ll stay with friends-of-friends until she can deliver her baby to its adoptive parents.

Although many a YA heroine would love to spend her summer in Spain, Kenzie isn’t exactly stoked. And who can blame her? For starters, she doesn’t even want to be there. She misses her friends and her boyfriend, who seems to be growing increasingly distant. She misses her father, who died recently, and the family she used to be a part of. Now she has a whole new set of people to deal with, including Estella, the cranky cook, and Esteban, the boy who’s all mysterious and swoony and kind of a bird whisperer. She’s also surrounded by gypsies (the real kind, not the witchy Stevie Nicks kind). On top of that, the baby growing inside of her is becoming realer every day. There’s more to the book than this, of course, but I’m being deliberately vague because I want you to read it (is my coyness working? I hope so).

Small Damages may be a novel, but at times, it reads like a poem. It moves slowly and even though not a lot happens, the book’s never boring. You get sucked into Kenzie’s life in Spain–the saffron, the oranges, the horses, the heat. Even if you’ve never lived in Spain while waiting to deliver a child (as I’m sure most of us have not), you’ll still understand the universal loss and confusion that often come along with growing up. More than the scenery, the smells, and tastes, what lingers from Small Damages are the feelings.


-I first read about Small Damages on one of my very favorite websites, Forever Young Adult. If you enjoy young adult literature and you aren’t reading Forever Young Adult, then what are you even doing with yourself? Also, full disclosure: not only do I love FYA, but sometimes I write about Gilmore Girls for them.

-This is another one of those books that’s going to make you hungry, since a large portion of the book takes place in the kitchen. There’s paella involved, so watch out and don’t read while you’re hungry.

-Last month, Beth Kephart wrote a fascinating article called Why (Some) Teens Don’t Read YA. She talked to a group of teenager writers who reminded me so much of myself as a teenager. Back then, I would’ve cited my influences as Dave Eggers or J.D. Salinger or David Sedaris, because those were some of the authors I read and reread. Of course, I was secretly reading The Princess Diaries, too. As an adult who now loves YA, I find the idea that some teens aren’t reading YA interesting. Beth Kephart suggests that, “we don’t have to write small, we don’t have to write same, we don’t have to sacrifice the loveliness of language” just because we’re writing for teens, and I agree. Small Damages is certainly an example of a YA book that’s big, different and absolutely lovely.

What about you guys? Have you read Small Damages? Let me know in the comments! As always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to include in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

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