You could say this book is a little bit like Superbad trying to disguise itself as some kind of philosophical manifesto, with make-out sessions thrown in there for kicks. Surprisingly, the result was a lot better than what the recipe promises - even if Graffiti Moon does have its flaws.
Due thanks to Random House via NetGalley for allowing me to pre-read this title.
Title: Graffiti Moon
Author: Cath Crowley
Publishing House: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: 14 February 2012 (American Edition)
Page Count: 272 (Hardcover)
The novel - taking just one night for its time frame - sets out to tell a multi-layered story about an Australian teen named Lucy as she sets off to discover the true identity of an enigmatic graffiti artist known as “Shadow.” The art that Shadow creates strikes a chord with Lucy, who’s also an artist - a glass-blower, to be more specific. Add a well-meaning comic relief and some bad dudes who like to cut people with things and shake well. Sounds like a
great okay recipe for your average teen movie, dunnit? But despite the gimmicky Valentine’s Day release date/”edgy” teen romance cover double whammy, Graffiti isn’t as simple as it seems… which might be the problem.
The plot moves at a fast clip, as it rightly should - Graffiti is a lightweight, clocking in under 300 pages. Despite the (for me, personally - especially considering I’m working my way through A Clash of Kings right now. Excessively long bracket over) low page count, Crowley manages to cram quite a bit of plot between the book’s covers. Shadow’s identity, while secret from Lucy until quite close to the end, is immediately obvious to the reader - half of the book is written in his perspective - which detracts from the mystery, but adds a fair bit of tension to the narrative. And that tension is needed. Despite the threat looming from various Big Bads, the narrative is generally a loosely-structured series of incidents: character sketches, random running through deserted parks, various people making out with each other, and overly-copious flashbacks. Despite that, it was a quick and entertaining read. The attempts at “depth” and philosophy missed the mark for me, but the plot was generally disconnected from these, so I will forgive them.
The book is narrated from two major perspectives - Lucy’s and Shadow’s - with occasional bits of poetry written by a third character, Shadow’s best dude friend, thrown in there for “spice.” This is a good idea narratively speaking, as it provides sufficient background for the characters’ relationships and sets up the dramatic irony surrounding Shadow’s actual identity. So props for that. But I took issue with the fact that, despite the lengths Crowley goes to distinguish the characters, Shadow and Lucy speak in exactly (and I mean sometimes-had-trouble-telling-them-apart exactly) the same narrative voice. I don’t care if the chapter heading tells me who’s speaking. Show me, please, dammit! This is a problem I’ve encountered in a lot of YA fiction - usually moreso in the dystopian/sci fi stuff. Clearly it has infected the realistic fic as well.
Another quibble I have is that, despite the fact that narratively they sound identical, I found it hard to relate to our leading lady. There was nothing wrong with Lucy, per se - she just had way too much in common with Shadow. His story was the more interesting version of hers - unorthodox home life, secret desire to be an artist, teen angst, etcetera - so when it came to develop Lucy’s character and that was all exactly the same, but less extreme, it was boring. They came from similar backgrounds (generally), and both had similar secret artistic dreams, and similar angst.
The actual narrative itself was what provided all of the romantic tension. There was no romantic tension between them in a personality sense - I mean, Lucy was already in love with the guy before the story started! Events and circumstances were what separated them, not personality differences. I like my romance served with a healthy dose of antagonism - I mean, who doesn’t love a little love a la Lizzie and Darcy? It’s the clash of wills and opinions that makes a love story interesting! Those are the issues I had with both characters and writing - for once so entwined I couldn’t really separate them and still maintain a charade of coherence.
As for enjoyability, Graffiti Moon had its moments. Like any raunchy, frenetic teen flick, it had its fair share of humor and snappy dialogue, even if
much some of it was forced. And it had its fair share of pretty-prose one-liners; it’s a book about artistes, after all. But something about the ending left me cold. Not that there’s a tear-jerking shocker lurking on the last page - it ended fairly well as I expected it to. It was trying too hard to be touching and deep, and I wasn’t feeling any of that. It was a good story, with a good set-up and some quality writing, but it didn’t thrill me. For my money, it didn’t do what it set out to do. Not that it was a bad read. Maybe you’ll read it and think “oh, this book totally gets me, it understands what I’m going through,” but that wasn’t what came to mind when I flipped the last page.
Premise & Originality: 0.5 Star
Plot: 1 Star
Characters: 0.5 Stars
Writing: 0.5 Stars
Enjoyability: 0.5 Stars
Total: 3.5 / 5 Stars