Genre: Contemporary YA
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.
Cath Crowley is one of those authors whose books I’d been hearing people gush about for years, and I kept meaning to read them but never quite got there. Then, late last year, I received a review copy of Crowley’s latest novel, Words in Deep Blue. And I can’t even express how much I loved it, even though it broke my heart in a million different ways. It’s one of those books that just haunts you. Even thinking about it now I’m getting all emotional.
So obviously, I wanted more and picked up Graffiti Moon (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2010) as my next Crowley read. It was shortlisted for The CBCA Awards and won the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature. Also, it’s got that incredible title going for it.
Spoiler alert: I loved it.
The story is shared between three narrators: Lucy, Ed (Shadow) and Leo (Poet). Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler—Crowley lets the reader know right from the beginning who Shadow and Poet are. Lucy and Ed take turns sharing their version of the night’s events with occasional interludes from Leo in the form of his poetry. These poems were one of the things I loved most about the book. Crowley is a total word wizard, so they’re all absolutely beautiful, and I found myself reading them over and over. But more than that, each is highly observant—capturing a really specific emotion—and collectively they lend the story a subtle poignancy. For example, my favourite, ‘The Daytime Things’, is about a down-and-out guy Leo sees at the petrol station. Here’s the first stanza:
There’s a guy down at the servo / With lions in his hair / Matted tails of roaring kings / A dirty song caught on his skin / He can’t remember where he lost them / But he lost the daytime things.
I know, amazing, right? The poems also remind the reader that this story is bigger than just Lucy and Ed and whether or not they’ll end up together at the end of the night. The minor players also have their own points of view and stories going on.
I also just really loved the idea of the story taking place over one magical night. It’s the characters’ last day of Year 12. They’re caught in that exact moment when childhood ends and adulthood begins, and for one night it seems that the world belongs to them alone. More importantly, the choices they make during the night will determine their first steps into their grown-up lives. They’re trying to decide who they’re going to be and what really matters to them. It’s an exciting time and the narrative has an enchanting, Midsummer Night’s Dream vibe, which is furthered by the inclusion of Leo’s poetry and descriptions of Ed’s murals.
But even though, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the story is, at its heart, a love story, it’s not sugary. In fact, the aesthetic is one of urban decay. Lucy’s search for Shadow takes her and her friends into the overlooked parts of the city: trainyards, weedy wastelands, highway curbsides. The shadows swirl thick and there are sinister figures crouching in the dark. And while the characters embark on a whimsical quest, each is also working through the first challenges of adult life: Lucy’s Dad is living in the back shed and her understanding of love and family is being reshaped; Ed’s mentor and boss has died suddenly, leaving Ed rudderless and without a way to pay his rent; Leo has got tangled up in the wrong crowd and is on the verge of joining his brother in a life of crime, and taking Ed with him.
However, as I mentioned above, Graffiti Moon is essentially a love story, and the dark bits are balanced with a good dollop of gooeyness. I thought the romance was really well handled, in particular, I liked that none of the relationships were perfect and that all the couples still had issues to work through at the end. It felt genuine. That said, I’m not a huge fan of love stories in general; I’m more of an ‘overcoming the monster’ plot girl. And I wasn’t crazy about seeing everyone neatly paired off. But that’s personal preference, not a criticism.
If I were to compare the two, for me, Words in Deep Blue probably just nudges ahead of Graffiti Moon, mostly for all the T. S. Eliot references, but also because it conveys a sense of insatiable yearning that just had my heart in a chokehold. But Graffiti Moon offers a rich and complex story narrated in Crowley’s signature lyrical prose style and it’s confirmed Crowley as one of my favourite YA authors.
Also, Crowley has collaborated with fellow Aussie superstars Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood on a new book, Take Three Girls, which is out in September, and I’m SO EXCITED I CAN’T EVEN!!!
Thanks to Grammarly for picking up three critical issues and ten advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!