Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review: A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell

Publication Date: April 14, 2009

Tags: middle grade, YA, death, family, art

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5


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. Half of the time I did not know where the characters were coming from in their positions on such-and-such a topic. 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.

Similar Authors
Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak)
Brigid Lowry (Guitar Highway Rose)

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Sigh. Writing this review made me sad because I heard such great things about it and wanted to like it very much. It was just too bad that the lovely descriptive prose had to be punctuated by such elementary dialogue. Perhaps you will like it more than me!


  1. How sad. I hope I love it somehow. I've not got my copy yet but I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

  2. It's a shame you didn't enjoy it as much as you thought you would Steph, but at least you got to read the parts that were worth reading. :)

  3. Sorry you didn't enjoy it as much 8( I hope it sits well with me whenever I get a chance to read it.

    P.S. An award awaits you here:

  4. i always feel disappointed when i'm excited to read a new book and it doesn't live up to my expecations. i still may give this one a shot because i think the premise sounds really good.

  5. I love LHA and Brigid Lowry but yeah, if the characters don't have depth the good writing doesn't make up for it.
    I might read this one anyway though...

  6. I'm sorry you didn't like it that much. I do have to connect to the characters in some way to like the book, normally, so I understand where you are coming from.

    I haven't read anything by Lisa yet though, so I can't give my opinion...


  7. Interesting review. It's great to read your honest opinions on the book.

  8. Steph, this is why I appreciate your reviews: you move past the hype and honestly discuss what works and doesn't work in a read. Thanks.


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