by Cath Crowly
272 pages, Knopf Books for Young Readers
Review by S.F. Winser
In my quest to read as many if the 2011 Australian Children's prize shortlist as possible (or at least the stuff aimed at the YA audience), this was my starting point. A good place to start.
In Graffiti Moon there are three POV characters and a sidekick or two. The main two people we need to worry about, though, are Lucy and Ed.
They're both coming to the end of Year Twelve. It's the last night of official classes in fact, and everyone's off doing different things to celebrate the end of High School, blowing off steam before final exams start. Lucy, an art-obsessive and talented glass-blower has been roped into a double date by her best friend. What she'd rather be doing is hunting shadows. Well, 'Shadow' and 'Poet'.
Shadow is the pseudonym of one of Melbourne's more talented young graffiti artists – a Banksy-esque social commentator and visual symbolist. Poet is his cohort. A clever writer who enhances Shadow's artworks with telling titles or accompanying poetry. Lucy is desperate to find Shadow (or Poet). She's been searching for them for weeks. She can see things in Shadow's art that resonate with her and she would do almost anything to talk to him.
Luckily she manages to convince her friend, her friend's date and her own blind date into following her on a Shadow-Hunt. She convinces them that it might be a fun way to waste the last night of Year Twelve. Although Lucy herself is taking up the search in earnest, she suggests that her companions would be able to use it as a kind of false-quest. An excuse to party-hop and hang around in dark cityscapes.
Poor Ed, however, is Lucy's blind date. The last thing he wants to do is follow Lucy's plan of hunting for Shadow all night by hitting parties and cruising through Shadow's known hot-spots. Partly because he got into this blind date unwillingly. He's just gotten out of a relationship and isn't looking to date anyone, no matter how much his friend needs him to make up the fourth in the group.
Also, also... because Ed is Shadow.
There is some fine writing in this. Shadow/Ed's best friend and co-artist 'Poet' is the other POV character and his poetry, when it makes it into the book, is simultaneously affecting, brilliant and ever-so-slightly immature. Just like real poetry written by a talented, but barely trained teenager. The descriptions of artworks come through clearly and with some emotional resonance – and it's notoriously hard to represent visual art though textual-medium. A picture is worth a thousand words and so-forth.
The plot has a few twists and surprises, redemptions and growth, all in a night. I feel only the barest compunction in revealing Ed's true identity because the reader finds that out early on – there are other surprises in the book. Why Poet is in trouble... The identity of the mysterious stranger at the party... The tale of Lucy's last boyfriend and what she did to him...
Part of the fun is seeing Ed squirm during Lucy's penetrating and uncomfortable detective-work. Or comparing the real person in front of her with her imaginings of Shadow, the romantic-artist archetype, while Ed finds a kind of amused distaste at her ideal. There are some interesting discussions and themes around the quirkiness of love. The situation with Lucy's (estranged? divorcing? loving?) parents is really well handled. Love works in odd ways. So does art.
This is a great book with a fun set up. Not too long, funny, insightful and well-handled. And just edgy and honest enough to keep YA readers of both sexes intrigued. The rest of the shortlist better be pretty damn good.