Review of “Small Damages” by Beth Kephart

Kenzie Spitzer, 18, tells this story in the first person, addressing it to her unborn child. Kenzie’s mother arranged for her to go to Spain for the birth and for the baby to be adopted by a childless couple in Seville. But it is clear from the beginning that Kenzie is not going to want to let this child go.


Back in Philadelphia, the father, Kevin, has a college career ahead of him, and no interest in taking care of Kenzie or in her having the baby. She feels abandoned, betrayed, and angry, and it takes her a long time to warm up to her hosts in Spain. She is, by her own later admission, bitchy and bratty, and consumed with her own problems.

But her new Spanish “family” is hard to resist: Miguel, the owner of the ranch where Kenzie is staying, acts like a father to her; his cook, Estela, acts like a mother; and Miguel’s 19-year-old godchild Esteban shows Kenzie what devotion really means, by the way he loves and respects the people and animals in his life.

Discussion: Beth Kephart is a mystery to me. Her stories always draw me in, even as I rage to myself that “real people don’t talk like this!” Her characters often speak more in poetry than in prose. Yet so does Ms. Kephart, as one can quickly discern by following her blog as well as the trail of comments she leaves on other blogs.

So I value her as an author; I keep coming back to her; and yet I have trouble accepting her voice. Perhaps it is because I have never known personally anyone who speaks as she does. But that is definitely my loss. The loss of us all, perhaps, who have grown too used to sentences filled with “OMG” and “you know” and “so like, um…” and “whatever” (all of which I am guilty of using myself). Woe to us that it should be a “criticism” that characters don’t speak like Ms. Kephart’s do!

Evaluation: This lovely story is irresistible even though the plot arc is not surprising. In fact, I think this may be her best book so far. There is so much passion and poetry in her description of Spain (Southern Spain itself is a character), that you can’t help becoming bound up in the hot and sultry spell she weaves.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2012

Note: Recommended listening while you read: a virtuoso guitar rendition of “Sevilla” by Isaac Albéniz


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22 Responses to Review of “Small Damages” by Beth Kephart

  1. Care says:

    I really enjoyed the Kephart book I’ve read but have yet to try another. This sounds wonderful.

  2. Sandy says:

    I love her books, but you are right…her prose is like a song, and often it is entrancing. I sure wish people talked like this. That being said, I won’t stop reading her books because they are simply lovely.

  3. I haven’t read anything by Beth Kephart yet but I keep hearing really good things about her books!

  4. Bookworm1858 says:

    I found this book so boring-the writing elicited zero (positive) emotions from me and I only finished it because it was short.

  5. I get what you mean about her writing, but I still love reading it. Maybe we should all attempt to add a little of her language to our conversations.

  6. zibilee says:

    I have never read a Kephart book, but think that this might be the one to start with. I can imagine that the language would be something different, but I want to see how she does it. Aside from that, the plot looks rather entertaining as well!

  7. Gaye says:

    Missed you at the book festival this year! Saturday was rainy and COLD so the crowds were small on the mall, yet there were packed classes. It was fantastic.

    This was a delicious review. Language truly affects me and I have such a strong wish that more of us spoke with more beauty and less abruptness and callousness. Thanks for such a thoughtful review. That sense of frustration that we don’t really ‘talk that way’ truly did evolve for you and it’s a bit of an eye opener to me. That sense of discovery is small yet powerful and is probably what gets to me more than I have realized. Great recommendation!!

    Can I add one more accolade? I loved your link to some beautiful music. If you want another incredible, albeit more contemporary flamenco guitarist, try a taste of Drew Diego Bennett. We heard him at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe about 5 years ago and he is incredible! I will definitely turn on his CD when I read this book! Oops, maybe even right now!!

  8. Iiiiiiiiiiiiiinteresting…not something I’d typically pick up but your comments about the ‘poetry’ of the dialogue intrigues me!

  9. Kelly says:

    I’ve never read any of Kephart’s novels, but this one sounds really good! And I love it when the setting of a novel is described well enough to be a character itself.

  10. Charlie says:

    I’ll have to look up her work after what you’ve said about her writing. Though this story is interesting by itself and I’m wondering what happens by the end as it’s a heartbreaking situation.

  11. I’ve always liked her books and have this one somewhere…must get to it!

  12. Ann says:

    Good review. I have trouble with books written in first person though.

  13. I do not think I have ever read anything by Kephart but this one has caught my attention.

  14. I haven’t read anything by this author but this is the second review that makes me want to try her work.

  15. I appreciate your balanced review. This sounds like an absorbing read though the overly lyrical dialogue would probably bother me.

  16. Beth F says:

    I’m so embarrassed that I haven’t read this one yet.

  17. bookingmama says:

    Ok — you sold me on this one!

  18. Trish says:

    Oh man! I wish I could listen to the clip but I’m already at work and don’t need the strange looks over my cube wall. 😉 Will have to remember to come back. I haven’t read anything by Kephart but she does seem to be a favorite among bloggers. One of these days…

  19. Ti says:

    I’m not familiar with her writing but the unrealistic dialogue issue would be a problem for me.

  20. florinda3rs says:

    I agree with you that this might be her best yet. Then again, I’ve said that a few times about her books–and if she keeps writing them, I probably will again!

  21. Athira says:

    I haven’t read a Kephart book yet so I need to change that soon. I’m glad to hear that you think this is her best yet – I will look for this one.

  22. stacybuckeye says:

    I need to read her!

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