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I had expected the usual zombie-like trance as six hundred sleep-deprived students shuffled silently toward the back doors, carrying their withered backpacks and a deep-seated grudge at being forced to return to the narrow hallways of Cleary High School after two weeks of holiday vacation. But instead of groggy bitterness, everyone seemed filled with a strange, contagious energy. I wondered briefly if the entire student body had descended upon Something's Brewing and consumed triple-mocha espressos. Nothing else could explain the wide smiles and whooping sounds emanating from the crowd.
I scanned the crowd, searching for my best friend, Lan, but it was nearly impossible with all the people. Everyone seemed to be standing in the same small space, squeezed in between the parked cars and cedar bushes. My cell phone rang and I set my backpack down on the pavement so I could fish it out.
"Kate, where are you?" It was Lan.
"I just got here. I can't see you."
"Look toward the back doors."
I looked over and saw a hand waving from behind a cluster of ball-capped heads. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
I slowly made my way through the crowd, which wasn't easy. No one was moving. They were either talking on their phones or trying to lift each other up to see the east wall. I saw one kid try to climb on top of a car, setting off a piercing alarm.
"This better be good," I grumbled to myself. Large crowds remind me of cattle, make me feel as if I were just one of the herd. The good part, though, was that you could blend in with everyone else.
"Kate! Over here!"
I finally made it all the way to where Lan was standing. Normally, Lan stood out in any crowd. It wasn't just that she was the only Vietnamese student at Cleary High School (or in the entire town of Cleary, South Carolina, for that matter) or that she was exceptionally pretty, with long, jet-black hair that she liked to wear in a thick braid that trailed down her back. Lan possessed a sense of style that set her apart from everyone else. Even her name was interesting. It meant orchid in Vietnamese and, to make sure everyone knew it, Lan collected all things orchid, from the delicate jeweled pins she made herself and wore on a regular basis to the live orchids she kept in her room, each one a different color and each one occupying a small ceramic vase.
Lan was exotic without trying to be, unlike me, who was just about as average as humanly possible. Brown hair, brown eyes. Even my name was average. There were times when I wished I possessed a little of Lan's uniqueness, but I'd learned that it was better not to stand out. I liked to fade into the background and watch people from a distance. Maybe that was why Lan and I were such good friends: we balanced each other out.
I gave her a quick hug. "Good to see you."
She hugged me back. "It's been forever," she agreed.
We hadn't seen each other since winter break had begun. Lan had been on vacation in Florida with her dad while I had been sprawled out in the den at home watching reality show marathons on TV and consuming way too many carbohydrates. We e-mailed and sent text messages, but I was surprised at how much I had missed my best friend.
I stood on my tiptoes in an attempt to get a view of the wall. "What are we trying to look at?"
She smiled mysteriously. "You'll see."
"There's too many people," I complained.
There was suddenly a break in the crowd and I could finally get a glimpse of what had everyone so excited. I almost smiled when I saw it. Almost. Then I glanced around for my dad. As soon as he heard about this, he'd be here, sirens wailing. I didn't see him yet, though, so I turned back to look at the wall. There, painted in thick black against the pale concrete, were half a dozen enormous gorillas.
"Isn't it amazing? Carter's going to lose it."
I agreed that yes, Principal Carter was definitely going to lose it. This wasn't your everyday, hastily scribbled graffiti. The gorillas were absolutely lifelike, complete with shadows and stern expressions. They sat staring out at us with huge, watery eyes. Each gorilla was at least four feet tall, and the one in the middle had a thought bubble painted over its head. "So this is what the jungle looks like" it read.
"This must have taken hours," I said. "Who did it?" It was a stupid question. Everyone already knew. Lan nodded her head toward the corner. "One guess." I could see Trent off to one side, videotaping the crowd and smiling. He was easy to spot because he was the tallest guy at school. Trent Adams, celebrated senior and master of school pranks. He had released twenty chickens in the cafeteria during the first week of his freshman year in protest over the nuggets. As a sophomore he managed to break into the school and move every piece of the principal's office furniture outside. He rearranged everything just as it had been inside, only now the desk and file cabinets and chairs and plants sat in the middle of the parking lot. That prank made both the local news and school legend. As a junior he decided that he would sing every word that came out of his mouth. There are very few people on this earth who can get away with singing nonstop and still be thought of as cool, but Trent managed to pull it off with ease.
A smaller group of kids had gathered around Trent. Most of them I knew, like Brady Barber and Eli James, who were hard to miss. Not only did they always hang out together, but they always dressed the same, too: baggy black pants, white collared shirt, black hoodie jacket. Reva Abbott was also standing near Trent, wearing tight clothes and a bored expression.
"What I meant to ask was, how did Trent do it?" The mural looked polished and professional. Not the work of an amateur at all. It appeared as if the gorillas had been painted using some kind of laser program—they were that perfect. In fact, it looked like it was the same gorilla copied six times, because they were identical to one another. There was no way it was done freehand, I realized. But there was also no way that Trent had access to the kind of sophisticated equipment I would guess something like this required.
"He's a genius," Lan said. "Who knows how he did it?" She stared across the crowd to watch him. Lan had always harbored a secret crush on Trent. Sometimes they flirted, but it had never developed into anything.
I reached into my backpack and pulled out the digital camera my parents had given me for Christmas. It made a sound like tinkling bells when I turned it on. I took as many shots as I could of the wall, knowing that some of the shots would be blocked by people's heads.
"We might want to get out of here now," Lan whispered. A police car had pulled into the parking lot. Two officers got out, and kids automatically walked away. One of the officers saw me, smiled and nodded. I nodded back, then let Lan pull me toward the front entrance.
There were still a few minutes before the first bell rang, but we were already in the junior hall, so we didn't have to hurry. When our new class schedules arrived just before break, Lan and I were thrilled to discover that we had first period history together. We had been best friends since freshman year and had never once had a class together, so this was a cause for celebration. Also, history was my favorite class. Mr. Gildea had a fun teaching style and with his bright brown eyes and wry smile he wasn't bad to look at, either.
"You're going to help me out, right?" Lan asked as we slid into desks in the middle of the room. She hated history. I always helped her with term papers and in return she helped me with science labs.
"This is going to be a great class," I told her. "I had Mr. Gildea last year. He's awesome."
"That's what you said about French, remember?" Lan grumbled.
"I didn't use the word awesome."
"No, I think you said it would be très magnifique. Which it was not. And I got a C."
I dug around in my backpack for a pen, automatically handing one to Lan, who always forgot to bring one to class.
"Oh, great. Look who has decided to grace us with her presence," Lan whispered. I looked up just as Tiffany Werner sailed into the room talking on her rhinestone-studded cell phone.
"It covers the wall," she was saying. "I mean, totally and completely. It will never come off, I'm sure. Well, of course. Uh-huh."
Tiffany Werner was the most spoiled girl I had ever known. She wore "Tiffany-blue," her signature color, every chance she got. Her parents named her after the famous jewelry store, and she loved to remind people of that fact, which seemed a little odd to me. I mean, if my parents had named me after a store, I wouldn't be bragging about it, no matter how fancy the store might be. She owned a genuine Tiffany diamond ring, and she considered herself a jewelry expert because of it. She wouldn't hesitate to lean over and grab someone's wrist to examine their bracelet or ring or watch, only to laugh and proclaim that it was a fake. She even did it to a teacher once. Tiffany had a way of taking over a classroom and making herself the center of attention, and I hated that.
She took a seat in the front, aware that we were all listening to her conversation. "The police are already here," she said, and I could feel a few people turn their heads in my direction. I pretended to study my blank notebook. "Trent's in the office now. They're questioning him."
This last comment caused a lot of murmuring in the classroom. The bell rang and Tiffany quickly shut her phone before Mr. Gildea walked into the room. He was one of the few teachers who wouldn't hesitate to confiscate a phone. Rumor had it that the bottom drawer of his desk was full of them, but I doubted it. Still, no one wanted to take a chance.
"Good morning," he said as he strode to the lectern. "And how are things in the jungle today?"
We all laughed a little. Mr. Gildea could be funny, probably because he was still young. He always wore khaki pants and a bright tie. This time it was green with thin orange stripes.
"Mr. Gildea, are they going to expel Trent for defacing school property?"
Everyone looked from Tiffany, who had asked the question, to Mr. Gildea, who was examining the attendance sheet.
"One moment, please, Miss Werner." He looked us over, checked his sheet and then put his pen down.
"Now, then, what was the question?"
Tiffany sighed loudly and repeated herself.
"I have no idea," he said, "but I'm sure the rumor mill will be up and running with an answer before lunch."
"They can't suspend him," said Brady Barber. He was slouched in a desk at the back of the classroom. "They have no proof."
"Oh, please," said Tiffany. "We all know it was him."
"So what if it was?" Brady was sitting up now. "I'm not saying he did it, but what if he did? It's art. You can't suspend people for expressing themselves with art."
"It's not art. It's called defacing public property, and it's a crime."
"That wall was already defaced, remember? It was streaked with tar from last year's roof repairs."
Tiffany sighed. "That was an accident, Brady. Not vandalism."
"It was still ugly."
"So are those gorillas."
Mr. Gildea held up one hand. "Sounds like we have a difference of opinion," he said, grinning. He loved a good debate. "You both present a valid point. Where is the line between art and vandalism?"
He went on to say that archaeologists had discovered graffiti in Roman ruins and that, in a way, it was one of the earliest art forms known to humans. Tiffany seemed to think that Mr. Gildea was taking Brady's side over hers.
"Art belongs in a museum, not smeared across a concrete wall," she announced. Well, this got the entire class talking, and I was glad that most people disagreed with her. I wanted to jump into the conversation, but I couldn't think of anything remotely meaningful to add. I wasn't like Tiffany, who could sum up her thoughts in one clear sentence. And I wasn't like Brady, who could always be counted on to come up with an idea no one else had thought of yet. Part of me wanted to be good at those things, but part of me knew that announcing my opinions out loud would automatically expose me to judgment, and that was something I could do without.
Mr. Gildea let the class debate the issue for a while before handing out our textbooks.
"I can see this isn't going to be resolved in one class period," he said just before the bell rang. "So we'll pick it up again tomorrow. Your assignment for tonight is simple—define art. Three hundred words."
Everyone groaned, and Tiffany snorted. "This has nothing to do with history."
Mr. Gildea smiled. "On the contrary. Art is a reflection of history. And this class owes you its thanks, Miss Werner. I wasn't planning on assigning homework today, but you brought up such a good point, I thought we should build on it."
Most of the class turned to glare at Tiffany while I smirked and Lan gave me a friendly nudge. If Tiffany thought she was going to run Mr. Gildea's class, she had another think coming.
The bell rang and I gathered up my things. As I was walking down the aisle, I tripped over Tiffany's foot and stumbled a little.
"Watch it," she snarled, glaring at me.
"Sorry," I mumbled, then immediately felt stupid. Why was I apologizing to her? She was the one sitting with her leg stretched across the aisle.
The rest of the day was pretty much the same. Everyone was talking about the gorillas on the wall. Trent wasn't seen at lunch, and everyone assumed he had been suspended.
Posted January 22, 2012
I really like how Kate has so many great qualities in this book. Some of the characters are typical for a high school novel including mean girl Tiffany who is so self absorbed. Her televised sweet sixteen party not only is the talk of the school but the town as well. But Kate has other big things on her mind, namely Eli, the guy she works with at a local coffee house. Her budding feelings about him are cute and feels very real. There are a lot of plot twists when the town has a graffiti artist tag the school, and later other buildings. I like how you really are kept guessing till the very end and even I didn't have a clue where some of the twists come from, all I know is I kept reading and reading, just to find out what happens.
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Posted September 6, 2014
Posted December 21, 2012
Posted December 30, 2010
What is the difference between Graffiti and Art? Mara Purnhagen takes us to Cleary, South Carolina to a town which didn't see much action until they had to answer that one question. Were the Gorillas that were found on several local businesses, including the local high school, graffiti or art? Who was the mastermind behind the Gorillas? Was it more then one person? What was the purpose behind the Gorillas?
Our main character, a very likable, Kate Morgan is who we followed throughout this adventure of finding the vandal(s)... or is it artist(s) Most every character we were introduced to, with the exception of those created meant to irk us, had a personality which set them apart and was very likable. There was somewhere there who almost anyone could relate to.
Not only a mystery, Tagged has a little bit of romance giving this book a second side and another aspect in which offered a solid foundation for an adorable and fun read. Don't let that lead to you believe that it's all a fun loving romance, Kate isn't exactly the most above average of girls who seem to have easy access to whoever and whatever she wants.
On top of the great Gorilla mystery, Kate, and the rest of the town, has to deal with the side effects the school's mean girl, Tiffany, who is having her sweet sixteen filmed for MTV. Did I forget to mention Kate's mom has to provide the cake for the near-royal event and Kate shows up to the party not only in a pair of sweats but ends up framed?
Well written and unique, Mara Purnhagen definitely stands out with this refreshing read.
Posted October 23, 2010
Go ahead and reserve your copy of this adorable little quick-read, because I guarantee it'll make you smile.
Kate Morgan's life is average, average, average. She doesn't belong to any particular clique or have any unusual skills, and most of her time is spent hanging out with her best friend Lan, or serving espresso at Something's Brewing with her co-worker Eli. But soon her small town experiences a jolt of low-level controversy when a bunch of beautifully detailed gorillas are spray-painted on a wall outside her high school.
The whole town is abuzz about the gorilla mural, which sparks all kinds of in-school and out-of-school debates about the line between art and public defacement. Kate gets closer and closer to Eli as they thoughtfully discuss the nature of creativity--for example, does everyone have the capacity for creative expression in some medium, or is art reserved for the classically trained and conventionally skilled?
The discussions of art and the musings on personal identity through creative expression are heartfelt and charming. Tagged captures the sweeter side of high school very well--the little gossipy things like wondering which cute boy likes who, and pouring our your heart to your best friend. Kate is generous and kind without being squeaky-clean, Eli's a doll, and this likable story is just the thing to brighten anybody's weekend reading.
Posted September 5, 2010
Tagged is narrated by Kate Morgan, who is the daughter of a police chief and the best friend of a Vietnamese-American girl named Lan. When she discovers a mural of six life-size gorillas on her school wall, she is intrigued. When these gorillas kept appearing at different places, she wants to help solving the mystery. I admired Kate's way of dealing with things. I also liked the close relationship between her and her parents.
Tagged mainly discusses about the line separating 'art' and 'vandalism' in graffiti. Well, I looked through the opinions of some people online, and I found this statement which suited the situation well:
"Graffiti is art if it is placed on a surface that is owned by someone who wants it there otherwise it is vandalism."
Racial issues are also discussed when Kate's best friend, Lan is humiliated by Tiffany, a snobbish rich girl. Tiffany is throwing a mega birthday bash to celebrate her 16th birthday, and she's going to have it aired on national TV. I disapproved with Tiffany's way of hosting her birthday party as if she were the queen where everyone was required to gather at a place to hear her announce who's on her invite-list.
Tagged has a good character set, a solid opening and an interesting plot. My only complaint is that the gorillas kept appearing and I lost my initial excitement and felt like it has become a clique. My intuition tells me the artist/vandal's identity right from the beginning. So it wasn't much a surprise to find out that I'm right. However, I don't understand the artist/vandal 's real intention of creating the graffitis. Why can't he think of a better way of doing what he's wanting to do? And why gorillas? It was unexplained.
To sum up, Tagged was fun, amusing and entertaining, but I sensed that there's something missing in this book. Nevertheless, teens will enjoy reading it.
Posted February 2, 2010
I Also Recommend:
Kate Morgan arrives to her small town high school one January morning to commotion over a giant graffiti gorilla that has been spray painted on the side of the building. When more gorilla grafitti shows up around town, it sparks a debate in class over art versus vandalism. The students of Cleary High spend the next few weeks debating and trying to figure out who did it- the tension culminating at an MTV televised birthday party for rich social snob Tiffany Werner. And the whole time, Kate finds clues linking the culprit to someone she is starting to like romantically.
TAGGED is a great book that will get teen readers to think about what defines art. The main character Kate can sometimes be annoying, but Kate's best friend Lan is a strong secondary character, as well as both of Kate's parents, who play their own central roles in the community. Eli is especially dreamy. The story is very realistic, with real-life consequences and real-time reactions to events. This could have happened to anyone's high school, anywhere in the US.
Debut author Mara Purnhagen writes smoothly in the teenage girl voice, especially when it came to Kate's thoughts and concerns over Eli. TAGGED is a short book with a colorful cover that is sure to get teen girls to pick it up.
For a sequel, I found myself craving more of mean girl Tiffany. It would be neat to have a book from her point-of-view!
Posted February 12, 2011
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Posted February 8, 2011
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Posted March 26, 2011
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