Cath Crowley, Graffiti Moon

Next week is Back to School Week for my kids and me, so this week is All the Meetings Week for me. Life is about to go back into overdrive. So once again, I’m going to aim for some short reviews/reflections on my reading. (We all know less than 1000 words seems to be impossible for me).

Cath Crowley‘s Graffiti Moon was a serendipitous audiobook discovery. I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but I stumbled on it when I was searching the library for vacation audiobooks for my kids. I downloaded it for myself because I had vague positive associations with it. Then I forgot it. The other day, I rediscovered it on my iPod. (Shh, the loan period had long expired. I’ll delete it now I’ve listened, I promise).

Somehow, I had the vague impression that this was some kind of urban fantasy, like a YA version of Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks. It’s not. It’s about a group of Melbourne teens finding themselves and their dreams and maybe each other on what is, for most of them, the last night of Year 12. [See here for the blurb.] It reminded me a bit of Jaclyn Moriarty‘s Year of Secret Assignments (aka Finding Cassie Crazy) and Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite PlaylistIf, like me, you enjoyed those books, this one will probably work for you. I loved it. Like, it restored my faith in happy book feelings loved it. Here are some reasons why:

  • Three distinct voices: Lucy, the aspiring glass artist obsessed with the graffiti artist Shadow; Shadow/Ed himself (he and Lucy have a past, but she doesn’t know he’s Shadow), who quit school, has just lost his job, and feels like a loser; and Poet/Leo, Shadow’s partner in crime (as you might guess, he provides words to go with some of Shadow’s paintings). The audio has three narrators, and I really liked being able to hear the Australian voices. I thought they matched the characters well.
  • The romantic attractions of the various characters (Jazz, Daisy and Dylan are also along for the ride) are a big part of the story, but I really didn’t know exactly how they would work themselves out, and it didn’t matter–I imagined several possible satisfying endings to their stories. I’m not spoiling, but I was happy.
  • Romance also wasn’t the only thing going on, which I like in YA. Though Lucy and Ed are the main narrators, Shadow’s poems add a third perspective on events and help to make this a story about friendship and art and mentors and doing the right thing as much as a story about love. (But it’s not a love triangle).
  • There’s a lot about art, particularly glass-blowing and painting. Art is part of how Ed and Lucy see and make sense of their world, so going around the city looking at Shadow’s walls, and hearing about Lucy’s memory-bottle project, becomes part of how we understand who these characters are, and how they come to understand each other and themselves. The downside of an audiobook is that I can’t quote, but there’s lots of vivid description–I could see their art–and Crowley makes great use of imagery and metaphor related to it. At one point, Lucy’s trying to think how to explain to Ed that she doesn’t mind he’s not a dream guy, and she talks about how some of her favorites of her glass pieces have cracks, but she still loves them because of the colors. (Paging Leonard Cohen! “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”) There’s a lot of good stuff about how glass can be both strong and fragile. The “artsy-ness” of the characters wasn’t just surface, it was the bedrock of their characterization.
  • There’s some serious emotion but it’s not super angsty and is often funny. No big feels for the sake of big feels.
  • Parents and parent-figures matter: bosses, teachers, grandparents. These kids are on the edge of independence and adulthood, but they care about and feel their debt to their mentors and still want guidance. Grownups don’t take over, though.
  • There’s a range of social class. Jazz’s parents are lawyers off at an international conference. Lucy’s are writers who support themselves with cab-driving and dental assisting. Her dad’s living in the shed, and though they say it’s just so they have space to write for a while, she’s afraid they’re divorcing. Leo’s are drunks and his grandmother has taken him and his brother in; they’re struggling on her pension. Ed’s father ran out on his teenaged mother when she got pregnant, and she can’t even remember his last name; when Ed quit school and got a job, he encouraged her to go to nursing school and cut back her hours at work. Now, they worry about making rent. Poverty is a struggle but not a tragedy in this book. It’s got various causes, and people are dealing with it in different ways. But the characters take it for granted. It’s life, not a source of angst or manufactured drama. (OK, maybe some drama in the way the boys are planning to deal with their cash shortages).
  • Can’t Negative Liz find anything to criticize? Well, it takes place over one night, so you do have to accept some shorthand/symbolic action, big changes happening fast, major revelations. It worked for me, but I did find the ending all a little tidy. And I think this might be a little too charming and whimsical for some readers. (Would it bug you that Lucy’s last name is Dervish and Ed’s is Skye?)

Not really under 1000 words, but I didn’t overthink them, at least.

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7 Responses to Cath Crowley, Graffiti Moon

  1. Kaetrin says:

    Who were the narrators LIz? I think I’ve heard about this one before (in digital format though) and I wondered if I’d like it – whether it was romance-y enough. But I tend to be more accepting on audio for some reason so maybe I will see if I can dig it up somewhere.

  2. willaful says:

    Awesome — I needed a new audiobook, and the library has it!

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