Steph Su's Reviews > A Map of the Known World

A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell
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Apr 05, 09

Read in April, 2009

Being a high school freshman is usually traumatic enough. For Cora Bradley, however, it’s worse than average: she lives in the shadow of her older brother, Nate, a notorious misunderstood troublemaker who killed himself when he drove into a tree. The Bradley household, once a warm and friendly place, is now cold, silent, and overbearing. So Cora throws herself into art, drawing elaborate maps of far-off places in her futile attempt to escape the ghosts of her small town.

Cora must deal with normal teenage girl troubles, too, though. As she and her ex-best friend drift apart, Cora finds solace in the unlikeliest of places: in Damian, Nate’s best friend, who was in the car with him that fatal night. Damian shows her things about Nate that Cora never knew before, but her parents despise Damian and blame him for their son’s death. What will happen when all these different points of view clash? Will Cora come out stronger in the long run?

After hearing amazing things about Lisa Ann Sandell’s stunning writing, I was more than disappointed in A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD. There is wonderful descriptive prose, yes—the kind that makes you want to stop after every period and drink in the sentence you’ve just read, the kind that makes you think, Wow. This is what writing is about.

Unfortunately, this lyrical language is interspersed with really elementary dialogue and predicaments. Cora may be a high school freshman, but high school freshmen do NOT need to sound so whiny, shallow, explosive, and unreasonable. I hardly felt any connection to the characters at all, and instead wanted to smack them on their heads for being so one-dimensional. The story, too, is predictable; you hardly need to read the book in order to know what the ending is.

All in all, A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD an admirable attempt at lyrically dealing with the difficult subject of death. However, the lack of connection I felt to the characters undermined the attempt. Read it once to savor the occasional delicious line of prose, but not to feel as if this is a world that you can believe in and empathize with.
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