May 4 2010
Dear Ms. Purnhagen,
I admit it. I picked up your novel because of the title. I knew immediately it was related in some way to graffiti and since that’s still a relatively uncommon focus in young adult novels, I wanted to give it a try. What can I say? I was in the mood for something different and not very paranormal. Too many books about vampires, I guess.
Kate Morgan is just your average teenager. In fact, you could say there’s not much remarkable about her in any way. She goes to high school. Her father is a police officer; her mother bakes cakes. She works at a locally owned coffee shop after school. She has a crush on her co-worker, who also happens to be taken and very unavailable. Kate faces the same struggle that many teens face: the desire to stand out while also fitting in.
Then one day she arrives at school to discover that someone’s spray-painted a gorilla on the side of the building. Which, in this quiet South Carolina town, causes a sensation. As more and more spray-painted gorillas start appearing all over town, it becomes a hot topic in class. Is this vandalism? Or is it art? And if it is art, does that make it all right?
I really wanted to like this book. As I said, I was in the mood for a more realistic YA novel, plus it was about graffiti. But while this was a quick read, I can’t really say much else in its favor. The identity of the graffiti artist was not a mystery to me at all. I guessed immediately who it was, so I found the reveal to be anti-climactic and disappointing to say the least. As a result, the mystery subplot was completely wasted on me.
Part of me also wonders if my lukewarm response is because the book tried to touch on many topics at the same time. There’s Lan, Kate’s best friend, who’s also the only non-white person in school. You can probably guess where this leads. There’s also Kate’s attempts to get invites for both her and Lan to the hot party of the year, hosted by the resident spoiled, rich mean girl of the school. Not to mention Kate’s attraction to her co-worker, Eli James, a storyline that played out in the most predictable ways possible. (And speaking about that, if you have an aversion towards cheating, even in high school romances, tread carefully with this book.)
Normally, I wouldn’t complain about all these topics because I certainly like it when many things are happening concurrently in a novel. My problem is that all these things happen but they read as perfunctory. I almost felt like there was a checklist at work here. Best friend is a minority in a small town? Need to address racism. Spoiled rich girl present? Need to show her getting a comeuppance. Crush has a girlfriend? Then girlfriend has to be nasty, shallow and the complete opposite of heroine. It’s a story that’s been told so many times before, and I just don’t think I read anything new here.
That said, it’s reads very fast and does not drag at all. I had no problem sinking into the story for all my complaints. I just would have preferred more emotional highs and lows, and perhaps more depth than I got here. C-