In a gorgeous story saturated with the rich sights, smells and flavors of Spain, 18-year-old Kenzie, mourning the recent death of her beloved father, finds herself pregnant and definitely unwilling to terminate her pregnancy. When her boyfriend Kevin, who is headed to Yale, finds out, he wonders what Kenzie's plan is to deal with her situation. Kenzie's mother hits the roof when she sees her daughter vomiting and then discovers the reason behind her nausea. As a college student, she had traveled to southern Spain, where her friend Mari lives. Mari knows someone who desperately wants to adopt a baby. So, before Kenzie can even get up the nerve to tell her best friend, Mom packs Kenzie off to southern Spain.
"Characters are so fully realized, they could walk off the page... SMALL DAMAGES is on the short side but is nothing short of a glorious triumph for Kephart."
Mari travels with her diplomat husband, so Kenzie stays at Los Nietos, the isolated ranch of Mari's friend Miguel, who is also the friend of the adoptive parents Javier and Adair. Ostensibly, Kenzie is to help Miguel's elderly and cantankerous cook, Estela. She also meets Esteban, Miguel's young godson, and a group of roving gypsies. It soon becomes obvious that one of the gypsies, Luis, has a mysterious connection with Estela. Kenzie wonders about their past. Why does it seem that Luis has a perpetual birthday being celebrated by Estela?
When Kenzie finally meets Adair, her baby's likely future mother, the older woman shows her the beautiful nursery she has created in her exquisite home. Adair speaks of the love she will shower upon the baby. Kenzie believes that Adair and Javier will give her child a wonderful life. Still, she can't help talking to her tiny baby girl (she's convinced she's carrying a daughter who surely will possess some of the features of the father Kenzie adored so thoroughly). She also can't seem to stop referring to her as "my baby," although she knows her future is set. It excludes motherhood and includes college --- and a possible reigniting of her relationship with Kevin, even though he sends her, infrequently, the briefest and most impersonal messages imaginable.
As time goes by, Kenzie draws close to two people. One of them is Esteban, whose past raises Kenzie's sympathies. His kindness warms her heart, in stark contrast to the dismissive attitude of Kevin. This friendship with Esteban skirts around the possibility of romance; it’s loving and affectionate without being trite. The other close friend Kenzie makes is her mentor cook Estela, who is not at all what she first appears to be.
Even through Kenzie's profound depression, the glories of Spain impress and transform her while aweing readers as well, described lyrically by author Beth Kephart. Characters are so fully realized, they could walk off the page --- none of them, including Kevin and also Kenzie's mother, are one-note, stock villains. Emotions reverberate, originating within the text and striking deep twanging bull's-eyes within readers. SMALL DAMAGES is on the short side but is nothing short of a glorious triumph for Kephart. If you are already a fan, you'll devour this offering. If you're not yet a fan, you soon will be one.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on August 19, 2012