A Map of the Known World is a YA contemporary fiction novel written by Lisa Ann Sandell.
Cora Bradley's life as she knew it changed dramatically the night her rebellious older brother Nate died in a car crash. Every day her dad comes home from work without a word to her, the only sound marking his presence in the house is the clinking of the ice in his gin and tonic. Her mom's arrival is different - a quavery, desperate search for Cora that is abated only by Cora's quick arrival at her side in the kitchen.
Nothing is the same. Her home is never happy.
Cora feels trapped in the small town of her upbringing, deadened by the constant assault of sameness. She dreams of leaving, of seeing the world. To keep herself sane, Cora draws. She draws maps to the places she wants to go. And the only good thing about going back to school is the art class she gets to take.
But in that art class is Damian - the handsome, quiet boy who was Nate's best friend and the passenger in the car the night Nate died - yet walked away without harm. Cora's parents have taught her to hate him, have told her that Damian took Nate down the wrong the path, the path that made Nate lost to them long before the accident - but she begins to see something else. He's a brilliant artist, maybe even sweet. But is forgiving Damian betraying her brother?
It doesn't take long for the lonely, sad words of A Map of the Known World to sink in and permeate your soul. Sandell makes the prose somehow rhythmical, lyrical and poetic while remaining approachable and easy to relate to. Cora's depression is a real, deep depression - one that is hard to reemerge from as you are reading. All the details provided in the novel about school, students, even the halls, scream REAL LIFE!
I was blown away by the introspective sensitivity and believably painful tone that is like Sarah Dessen's in its complete and utter elegance and realism. The underlying desperation and suffocation of Cora's spirit is shakening and gripping, and I was glued to the pages, rooting for her happiness.
There is a magnetic pull to the characters. Damian is an enigmatic romantic conundrum and Cora a confused, curious, passionate girl caged in by the circumstances of life. There is an exploration of knowing those you love beyond the blood ties and how much courage you have to try. It's a bittersweet examination of how life can change you, about how it can make you grow or disintegrate - depending on your choices.
A Map of the Known World is a mature, beautiful, touching, engrossing novel from the first page to its last. I was fully invested in these characters, in a state of suspense really. What a satisfying, inspiring, amazingly written read! A slice of life, when life isn't so great. Exceptional.