By: Diane C. Mullen
Every act of creation is first an act of destruction."
- Pablo Picasso
Liam is a fourteen-year-old boy growing up in public housing in Minneapolis. He lives with his mother and three younger siblings-their abusive father out of the picture. When Liam's estranged older brother convinces him to tag a rival gang's wall, Liam finds himself in serious danger.
Liam uses graffiti to leave his mark on concrete benches, metal Dumpsters, bullet-proof bus-stop shelters, and anywhere else he can affirm his identity using the tag "St. B." But Liam's artistry goes beyond the graffiti. He keeps a blackbook where he sketches the people around him, the city buses, light-rail trains, and the colors of his hood. In school Liam shows little interest in his studies, and although lessons on Pablo Picasso pique his interest, he feigns indifference.
An invitation from his mom's artist friend Kat-the woman who gave Liam his cherished blackbook-sends Liam to spend his summer on the shores of Lake Michigan. Liam is struck by the serenity and beauty of Lakeshore and though he's quickly captivated by Kat's artistic world and the work of artists like Basquiat and Picasso, he tries to maintain his tough and indifferent front.
Liam eventually has to choose between staying in Lakeshore or returning to a family who needs his help-a choice that will determine whether he can change himself for the better, or continue down a dangerous path.
A 14-year-old graffiti artist spends a summer away from his inner-city home.
Fearful that Liam will follow his older brother into gang-influenced crime, his mother sends him from Minneapolis to a small resort town in Michigan to spend the summer with her artist friend, Kat. Liam's had a rough year, having been kicked out of the private school where he'd won a scholarship and threatened with a gun for painting graffiti over a gang sign. At first Liam dislikes Lakeshore; he even vandalizes the town beach house in a cross between artistic expression and boredom. Gradually, with Kat's help, he begins to see himself as a serious artist. Kat invites him to stay, but he knows that at home, his younger brother is befriending gang members. Mullen's smooth debut, written primarily in dialogue with very short chapters, often feels like a verse novel without the limitations of that form. His first-person narration is characterized by clipped, often incomplete sentences that capture his restlessness. Liam's reluctance to take chances feels authentic, given his past, and the exploration of graffiti as serious art, with links to Picasso and Basquiat, intrigues.
A solid, interesting novel.
Liam O’Malley wants to be a graffiti artist. He has been tagging his downtown Minneapolis neighborhood, but when he is caught by a rival gang, his life is threatened. Worried that Liam is following a destructive and dangerous path, his mother sends him to Lake Michigan for the summer to live with an artist friend. There Liam immerses himself in art and learns about Picasso and Basquiat, and he explores his own philosophy of art. Liam’s tender, inspiring tale of the healing power of art depicts the teen attempting to discover who he is, find his place, and question his faith. Ultimately, his summer on Lake Michigan teaches him how to alter his path, help others through his art, and make a statement. Mullen doesn’t take the easy way out—Liam’s predicament regarding his art versus his responsibility to his family is handled in a realistic way. A strong debut about the power of art to bring reconciliation.
In this sensitive portrayal of a budding artist from newcomer Mullen, 14-year-old Liam O'Malley is consumed by the idea of becoming a graffiti writer. After Liam gets embroiled in a rivalry between local gangs and his grades slip, his mother sends him away from their home in the projects of Minneapolis to spend the summer with her friend Kat in tiny Lakeshore, Mich. Kat, a sculptor, provides a calm and supportive temporary home for Liam, who becomes inspired by the tranquil landscape, researches a variety of artists including Basquiat and Picasso, and begins to let go of his resentment surrounding his upbringing. Soon Liam has to decide between returning home to serve as a role model for his siblings or pursuing his dreams independently. Short chapters and clipped phrases give Liam's narrative the punchy impact of graffiti: "No sirens in two weeks. No black-and-whites driving around, either. No cops standing in stores. None walking the streets. Nothing,” Liam reflects on his new environment. A powerful story about the positive effects of change.
Anne Ursu, author of Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy
A gutsy, sharp, and beautiful story of finding agency through art.
Author Bio:Diane C. Mullen, author
Diane C. Mullen's debut novel is infused with an appreciation for the myriad people and colorful urban art in her Uptown Minneapolis neighborhood. Formerly a filmmaker, Diane now works at the Walker Art Center, in the heart of the city. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University.
When Diane's not spending time with her children, Kyle and Maggie, she can be found admiring and researching street art, biking around Minneapolis, or tending her plot in the Soo Line Community Garden.
Read more about Diane.
Awards & Honors:
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Page count: 288
5 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄4
Correlated to Common Core State Standards:
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Literature. Grades7. Standards 1-4, 10.
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Literature. Grade 8. Standards 1-4, 6, 10.