Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
Published: Published February 14th 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published in Australia, 2010)
Source: local library
“Let me make it in time. Let me meet 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.”
It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.
His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.
Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.
But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.
This book was recommended to me first by one of the teens in the book club I organize at the library. We have similar taste; we both like books that inspire that ache in your soul. I’ve never really read anything less than a rave review of this novel, so I had high expectations going in, and still, Cath Crowley managed to blow me away with her hanging moon and shooting flames and skies that go nowhere.
Graffiti Moon is the story of Lucy and two of her friends on the night of their high school graduation. They’re out for a night on the town, and all want something to happen, to get something that they want. Lucy wants to meet the enigmatic Shadow who paints beautiful graffiti murals all around town, not hang out with Ed, the guy from her art class who dropped out of school after she gave him a broken nose on their first date. But Ed says he knows Shadow, and takes her on a tour of his secret haunts in the hopes of finding him during the course of the night.
The story of their night is told between mostly by alternating Lucy and Ed’s first person point of view, but there are also poems by Ed’s friend, Poet, who sometimes writes verse alongside Shadow’s murals. Anyone who knows my reading taste knows that I am highly suspicious of any novel written in alternating first person and think most people should probably not go sprinkling poems into their novels (I also am personally not a fan of novels in verse). But Cath Crowley can pull this off. Though the story takes place during the hours of just one night, we learn so much about Lucy and Ed’s past with each other and also about their families that wouldn’t have felt organic without the close, present first person perspective. The nature of the plot demands we get both character’s perspective. It works beautifully.
Though overly descriptive language and poetic conventions can easily distract me from a story, the metaphors bring the setting to life, reveal so much about the way the characters see the world, and are clever without being contrived. The description of not only the process of making art, but of real-life pieces that Lucy and Ed have seen in museums or read about, bring the works to life so the reader can experience glass-blowing and painting and viewing art through Lucy and Ed’s eyes.
This novel captures the exact feeling of being right on the cliff and not sure if you’re ready to jump into adulthood. It examines the infinite possibilities one night in the city can bring. It’s about art, and hope, and confusion, and those sorts of crazy moments that force you to reveal yourself in a way you normally don’t. It’s a series of coincidences and conversations that bring two people together in just the right way to make you believe in the possibility of love.
Unlike the angsty, die-without-you, insta-love that creeps into a lot of young adult fiction, this is an attraction that felt believable and real. All of the couples in the book are feeling out their potential partners, learning what they want in a romantic relationship and who might fill those needs. It doesn’t deny the spark between two people, but it also doesn’t deny that you can feel it for more than one person at a time or have conflicted or unresolved feelings for someone.
I can’t recall a novel that has transported me back to my own late teenage years in the same way that Graffiti Moon did. Ed and his friends aren’t bad kids, but they definitely are up to no good on this particular night. It reminded me of my own misadventures with somewhat dangerous, misunderstood boys. But reading it as an adult, I also appreciated the way the adults in the book we’re portrayed. Ed and Lucy both have mentors in their craft and that play a supportive role in their lives. I enjoyed Lucy’s parents too, and their unconventional occupations and relationship—and really want to explore the idea of Mister BS living in a shed while I finish my novel!
The dialogue was so intimate and real I often felt as if I was eavesdropping. The whole novel was so delightfully quotable, I wanted to Instagram the entire book. (My Instagram feed is proof I lead a life full of books, wine, and irony).
I’d recommend this novel to just about anyone, but particularly fans of romances without the cutesy factor and readers who love art. This felt similar to If I Stay and Where She Went for me in terms of the quality of the writing, though was not as deep emotionally. This is a quick, engrossing read that is perfect for curling up with and reading in just one night—my favorite way to read a book. This is on my list of books that should be required reading for any journalist wanting to do a piece on young adult fiction, because it demonstrates the literary merit, accessibility, and quintessential tone of YA. Can we please stop reading about Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games as if they represent all of YA?
Catie at The Readventurer: “While many young adult romances seem to be propagandizing the all-consuming, identity swallowing, love at first glance kind of romance, this book goes so much deeper. It acknowledges the instant attraction, the lust, the electricity, and then it moves on. It moves past the romantic ideals to celebrate the more complex truth.”