Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Title: Graffiti Moon
Author: Cath Crowley
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: February 14, 2012
Rating: ★★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

Lucy is in love with Shadow, a mysterious graffiti artist.

Ed thought he was in love with Lucy, until she broke his nose.

Dylan loves Daisy, but throwing eggs at her probably wasn't the best way to show it.

Jazz and Leo are slowly encircling each other.

An intense and exhilarating 24 hours in the lives of four teenagers on the verge: of adulthood, of HSC, of finding out just who they are, and who they want to be.

I. Loved. This. Book. Graffiti Moon was filled with all of the things I need/want/adore in literature: thoughtful, funny characters who are simultaneously weird and normal; luscious writing that doesn't go over the top; relationships between people who see the best in each other. Plus, graffiti and art talk! Bonus!

The style itself is reminiscent of Hilary T. Smith's Wild Awake – with its quirky characters who are utterly imperfect but fit so well together – as well as Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road, which is likewise filled with compelling relationships and reckless boys and all around flawlessness. I am obsessed with both of these books, so surely that will tell you something about my reaction to this one.

Graffiti Moon is split into three perspectives, which work especially well here. Each character has such a unique, interesting voice that the multiple perspectives feel welcome. First there is Lucy Dervish who, much like her name, is dreamy and lyrical. She has interesting hobbies (glassblowing and staring up at the stars until her life feels insignificant) and interesting goals (to find Shadow). Her thoughts on love and art are the kind of thoughts you want to seep into your brain and contemplate for days on end.

Next comes Ed Skye. Ed is pensive. He's romantic. He's a little bit lost. But there's something in him – not a spark, exactly, but something that resembles embers burning beneath the surface. He feels hopeless, but he's hopeful in spite of himself. Ed has a strong artistic voice that is balanced with pragmatism. His pages are enchanting to read because everything he says sounds significant.

I felt like I needed to run but my skin wouldn't let me. I had this urge to throw cans at the windows so I could hear a noise that sounded like escape.

Finally, there's Leo the poet. Leo's pages are few and far between, but they are powerful. His poems are short and sweet, and by sweet, I mean honest and spot-on and desperate and hopeful and sad. Lucy and Ed are ultimately the heart of the story, but Leo's poems shed some much-appreciated light on what's happening elsewhere. His words provide a richness, a depth, to the story as a whole.

Lucy and Ed's relationship unfolds through candid conversation, which we experience in what feels like real time. We learn about their shared history. We fall in love as they each hold their own in their verbal (and non-verbal, as you'll see below) sparring. There's very much an "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" mentality between Lucy and Ed. It's all the better knowing who Ed is and being able to watch everything slowly unravel. That, my friends, is the right way to accomplish the slow burn. 

I look over at Ed. He's staring out the window giving Leo the thumbs-down. I wait till he's looking at me, then I give him two fingers up. He gives me two fingers back. I give him the middle finger. He gives it back to me. I don't know any more signs, so I make up one. Three fingers. Take that, mister. He sticks up four. I call your four and raise you five. He skips straight to ten and does something with his thumb that disturbs me. I bounce my hands on my lap. Ed bounces his lap right back.

Cath Crowley is great about underscoring key themes. All throughout the book, the idea of "no guts, no glory" prevails. It starts with Lucy and her best friends Jazz and Daisy as they decide to go all-out on their last night of year 12. It extends to Ed and his assertiveness with his future, his assertiveness with the girls he loves... Circumstance is another concept that's well-explored in this book – whether it defines us, whether our choices matter, whether the outcomes of our lives are inevitable. There's a subtle strand of hope that makes its way through the story.

Art is also an important element in Graffiti Moon, and it is woven into the story in such a lovely, effortless way.  Both Ed and Lucy talk about graffiti and glassblowing so conceptually and thoughtfully that my inner art kid is swooning. They don't ever dumb down what art means, and in fact, they consider all these different ways to interpret and absorb it.

Most times I look at Shadow and Poet's work, I see something different from what the words are telling me. I like that about art, that what you see is sometimes more about who you are than what's on the wall. I look at this painting and think about how everyone has some secret inside, something sleeping like that yellow bird.

The writing in Graffiti Moon is simply brilliant. There are so many pages I love in their entirety. The book is a balance of the poetic and the everyday, the lush and the ordinary. That's what makes it all the more special – that there is beauty and art and poetry in the ugly and mundane. Cath Crowley's prose often stretches to the point of overwhelming, but then she manages to reign it all back in.

I do think the conflict with Malcolm Dove is a bit overblown and almost too conveniently resolved. It would have benefited from a more fleshed-out storyline. The ending also seems rushed, especially given that the rest of the book progresses at a more leisurely pace. However, Graffiti Moon remains beautifully written and, despite some minor shortcomings, still feels resolved. This book is ultimately about relationships – with the people you love and with yourself – and that's what comes through, in the end.

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