Apr 30 2014 4:45pm

First Look: Jamie Brenner’s Ruin Me (May 6, 2014)

Ruin Me by Jamie BrennerJamie Brenner
Ruin Me
St. Martin's Griffin / May 6, 2014 / $3.99 digital

Lulu Sterling thinks she has it all figured out: with one more year left at NYU, she’s spending her summer interning at her mother’s iconic art gallery, determined to overcome the long shadow of her father’s suicide and prove herself to her critical mother. With her boyfriend, rising artist Brandt Penn, Lulu also hopes she will finally experience the love and desire that have always eluded her. But passion comes where she least expects it in the form of a brilliant, reclusive street artist known only by the tag GoST, and Lulu must decide how much she is willing to risk – and how far she is willing to go — to claim it.

I grew up in Manhattan in the '80s when Keith Haring and his compatriots were raising graffiti to an art form. But despite the high end galleries selling such work, the city’s buildings were covered with spray paint. Maybe this street art was working its way into the mainstream, but it still was very much something I could spot in the wild—on a billboard or on the side of a bus stop. The art felt vital, important. Not some untouchable canvas on the wall of the Met to be contemplated in silence, but something urgent. Something worth getting arrested for, maybe worth dying for.

Jamie Brenner perfectly captures that relevance and immediacy in Ruin Me. Lulu has her whole life planned out for her, only it’s her mother that’s been doing the planning. Like many children of successful parents with forceful personalities, Lulu, eager for her mother’s approval, just goes along with the plan. It’s a sensible plan, after all. And her boyfriend is a rising artist, one her mother is going to make into the next big thing in the art world. But a sighting of a graffiti artist at work, one whose work she’s been following, one wanted by the police, unravels her predictable world.

I know I should go. But I’m rooted in place. I feel myself close to greatness, true greatness. Something bigger and more important than anything that has hung in the walls of my mother’s gallery. And if I leave now, I might never get close to it again.

This is truly a New Adult novel, in the sense that it is at least as much a coming of age story as a love story. Lulu doesn’t even meet the love interest until nearly 20% of the way through the book (although his art is center stage from the start). I loved watching Lulu come into her own. She may have been living as an independent adult, with her own money and her own place, at the start of the book, but she is still under her mother’s thumb. She is eager to please and win the approval she’s never had from her mother. Lulu has even dropped plans to go to Europe over summer break with her best friend who is eager to fall madly in love. Instead, Lulu is working as an intern at her mother’s gallery.

One of my favorite things about the book is the changes in Lulu over the course of the book. She goes from being complacent, accepting of her life, which on the surface is pretty good but despite her willingness to go along with it, Lulu thinks of her life as “a sealed white box that I can never get out of and will never be able to bring anything into.” The changes aren’t just because she falls in love but because of the risks she takes for her passions—for the work and the man.

As she chases GoST, the mysterious graffiti artist, she begins to open her eyes and see the people in her life more clearly. One night, in the middle of a star studded gallery party, Lulu steps outside for a breath of fresh air and sees him in the middle of spray painting a building. She tries to talk to him, follow him even. From that choice that one night, her life begins to unravel. Her unquestioning devotion to her mother, her infatuation with her boyfriend who is so selfish he doesn’t even know he’s bad in bed, her plans for her future.

The characters have different ideas of art and of love and the two are inexorably mixed. Falling in love with GoST begins with an obsession with his art. Inez, Lulu’s mentor at the gallery, is mercenary. Her roommate is a hopeless romantic. Her mother wants to cling to the past. “Don’t look to reinvent the wheel,” she says. “Learn how to keep the wheel spinning.” GoST is willing to sacrifice everything for his cause. In the middle of it all, Lulu is a young woman trying to figure where she fits into the art world and her own life.

Learn more or pre-order a copy of Ruin Me by Jamie Brenner, available May 6, 2014:

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Julia Broadbooks writes contemporary romance. She lives in the wilds of suburban Florida with her ever patient husband and bakes ridiculous amounts of sugary treats for her teens' friends. Find her on Twitter @juliabroadbooks.

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