Random House, $19.99/$10.99 digital, Feb. 14, 2012
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 finding out just who they are, and who they want to be.
Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon is a truly intriguing young adult novel that I think adults, too, will enjoy, particularly those who like to read about romances that involve work: working to look beneath surface impressions, working to negotiate, working to be truthful with one another. It’s also a romance, or rather a group of romances, narrated in a complex web of revelations.
Set in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, the story follows recently-graduated teenager Lucy, who harbors an intense passion for a graffiti artist whom she knows only as Shadow, who might have painted her into one of his works. Meanwhile, there’s Ed, who dropped out of school after one disastrous date with Lucy, and is in difficult financial straits that lead to illegal activities. Secondary characters include Lucy and Ed’s best friends, Jazz and Leo: Leo a poet, and Jazz convinced she can see the future.
The story is told in first person, from the points of view of Lucy, Ed, and, through his poetry, Leo. I love the lyrical prose, which has a distinctly teen feel:
Let me meet Shadow. Poet too but mainly Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers….There’s one of Shadow’s pieces, a painting on a crumbling wall of a heart cracked by earthquake with the words Beyond the Richter scale written underneath. It’s not a heart like you see on a Valentine’s Day card. It’s the heart how it really is: fine veins and atriums and arteries. A fist- size forest in our chest.
… Most times when 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.
In particular, all of the art that’s described is about love, and the search for love, and love that’s been thwarted. It’s described, though, with a lovely ironic sense of humor, and frequently dramatic passions are skewered in favor of the mundane.
I sprayed what Leo wanted anyway: a guy with the word love cut out of his chest and a girl next to him holding some scissors. Emma came out and saw it and he got on his knees in front of that wall, a love-cut guy begging her to take him back. She pulled out her mobile phone and called the cops.
The characters’ selves are all bound up with art, as well; they can’t seem to describe emotions except through the art they’re creating. It’s inextricable from their relationships. They fall in love through art, and show their love through the art they make.
For instance, Lucy makes the connection directly:
I’m addicted to this place. To the heat coming off the furnace. To my muscles aching as I help Al blow glass. I ache with the weight of the piece on the end of the pipe. Ache with the thought that in a place as ugly as this, a place of rust and sweat and steel, something shining like love can appear.
Ed doesn’t have the words, but he does have his painting:
Paint sails and the things that kick in my head scream from can to brick. See this, see this, see this. See me emptied onto a wall.
If I haven’t already convinced you to read this, the novel was a winner of the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature. So why not give it a try?
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her novel The Moonlight Mistress is set during World War I, and she has a terrifying love of research about that period. Follow her on Twitter:@victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.