“...suitably tame for a young adult audience…”
I’m not the biggest fan of flying. Compared to the alternatives, it’s expensive and bad for the environment. Plus, my gut indicates it defies all laws of physics (and my brain cannot disagree because I never took physics in high school). On my first flight ever, as a teenager, I read a scary novel to distract myself. I was taken back to my teen years earlier this week on a flight to Regina, with a tale of budding artists at summer camp.
When I say ‘conclusion,’ I should really say ‘improbable conclusion’: the prospect of a 15-year-old breaking into the New York art world is as hard for me to buy into as the concept of flight. The characterization of protagonist Indy Hamlisch as a prodigy seems far-fetched because she has the whole package. Her advanced technical skill seems plausible, but the conceptual sophistication of her projects (like her pre-pubescent appropriation of Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair prints using patio furniture and Christmas lights) does not. While her peers are into Dolce and Gabbana, Indy idolizes artist duo Gilbert and George. Granted, she is introspective as a result of her mother dying when Indy was six years old, and she has been exposed to performance art through her performance artist stepmother, but still! I will concede that it’s better to set the bar too high than too low for aspiring artists reading the novel. It’s also exciting that Indy recognizes she is talented and is disinterested in masking it to fit in socially.
Although the novel is endorsed by comedian Amy Poehler, I never found myself laughing out loud at my reading material like my seatmate did with hers. A friend from my Art History Masters who now hails from the library world, she observed that my book looked racy. In actuality, it is suitably tame for a young adult audience. The only x-rated content is a theatrical performance about a sex worker, with Hamlisch’s BFF in the lead role. Kalusner may open the novel with Hamlisch thinking about sex, but she doesn’t go further than kissing. A flawed character, she makes out twice while drunk: with a boy from another camp she doesn’t even like, and with a much older camp instructor she really likes. In a jealous rage over said instructor, she cuts herself intentionally, and takes the studio blowtorch to his painting for revenge.
What Indy discovers after her pyromaniac stint is that personal expression and creativity trump romance (or at least ill-advised romance). This theme is interwoven with the female equivalent of—pardon the vulgarity—‘bros before hoes,’ which gives the novel a surprising feminist twist.
Image: reproduced in 2019 via fair use/dealing. Source: https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/?s=art+girls+are+easy