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The Eyes of Van Gogh

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A teenager finds solace in her art ? and her friends ? as she struggles to escape depression in this affecting new novel by Cathryn Clinton.

After all the moves from town to town, after all her mom?s boyfriends and drinking and anger, Jude hopes things will be different in Ellenville. In her new high school, Jude starts to open up. Her art teacher admires her painting and encourages her interest in van Gogh. Soon she has two new friends and a romance that may save her from a ...

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Overview

A teenager finds solace in her art — and her friends — as she struggles to escape depression in this affecting new novel by Cathryn Clinton.

After all the moves from town to town, after all her mom’s boyfriends and drinking and anger, Jude hopes things will be different in Ellenville. In her new high school, Jude starts to open up. Her art teacher admires her painting and encourages her interest in van Gogh. Soon she has two new friends and a romance that may save her from a dead-end future after all. But when life doesn’t follow her plans, Jude finds herself staring into van Gogh’s tortured eyes and seeing her own reflection. NOTHING WILL EVER CHANGE, says a voice in her head. MAYBE IT WOULD BE BETTER IF YOU WEREN'T HERE. With sensitivity and insight, Cathryn Clinton looks through the eyes of a troubled teen as she moves through darkness toward a merciful glimmer of light.

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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Lucy Schall
A talented writer and artist, seventeen-year-old Jude overcomes her alcoholic mother's abuse, their rootless life, and her own fantasies to try for a positive future. When Jude and her mother move near Jude's comatose grandmother, Jude finds two supportive friends and a nurturing art teacher. Ignored by her mother, she carries on one-way conversations with a grandmother she does not know; trusts that the star football player, who is dating her for sex, wants to marry her; and identifies with the mentally disturbed artist, Van Gogh. Jude fears that in her life choices she is becoming like her dysfunctional mother and embraces Van Gogh's decision to commit suicide. At the last moment, she pulls back, but her injuries put her into a coma. Regaining consciousness, she finds that her friends and art teacher have frequently visited her, her mother is planning another move with a new man, and that life, even with no biological family, is worth living. Her friends and teacher arrange for her to finish her senior year. Jude tells her mother good-bye, and accepts that they will be living two separate lives. As in the also hard-hitting, more complex Not Like You (Clarion, 2007), destructive mother/daughter relationships, alcoholism, exploitation, and honesty are major themes, but in this novel, the mother does not change. Junior and senior high school readers will have much to discuss about this coming-of-age story that centers on belonging, love, and personal integrity.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
The haunting portrait on the cover is of Jude, the girl who thinks she has the eyes of van Gogh, reflecting madness. Jude is an artist and art is the only constant in her life as she knows it. Her mother is inadequate, to say the least, and her restlessness and dysfunction have caused Jude to have to move around the country, never establishing any roots that might help create stability. The novel begins as Jude moves to a new town, where she manages to make friends. Still, her mental instability is overpowering. She finds some relief in going out to the train tracks in the night, facing death head-on as the train bears down on her, and then choosing to live. She identifies with van Gogh's depression just as she appreciates his artistic genius. The novel takes the reader to Jude's edges; fortunately, at the end of the story Jude turns 18 and there is hope that she will allow others to help her retreat from that brink.
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up
Jude, 17, is trapped by her mother's promiscuous, abusive, and irresponsible patterns. Always on the move, Stella has left a string of loser men and unsatisfactory towns behind. Now she and Jude are in Ellenville, where Stella's mother lives. Jude has never met her grandmother and craves this family tie, but the woman has had a stroke and is unable to communicate. Jude visits her daily, carrying on a tender conversation in her mind. Life with Stella continues to be ugly, but Ellenville offers some bright spots for Jude. Her art class is a sanctuary. She begins to make friends; best of all, she hooks up with the high school football star, a hunky guy who is bright, likes art, and makes her skin tingle. Jude hopes he will rescue her from her tawdry life. But there's more to her unhappiness than the obvious, and as she reads about van Gogh's life, his emotional struggles resonate with her. Then her mother is ready to move again, Todd doesn't want to commit, and Grandma dies. Jude almost loses hope. Walking with this girl through her depression feels real. Unfortunately, the dialogue doesn't, and too many pat situations compromise the serious nature of this novel.
—Alison FollosCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Hypersensitive, melancholy Jude (as in, "Hey, Jude," her favorite song) is at her ninth new school in 13 years as a result of her mother's wanderlust and bad luck with boyfriends. Home, which in the past has included Memphis and Miami, is now Ellenville, Pa., where Jude's grandmother is in a nursing home after a stroke. While writing a report on Van Gogh for her art class, Jude begins to draw parallels between the artist's depressed life and her own. Despite making friends and dating a football player with plans to run his family's farm one day, Jude cannot stop thinking that her life will never be the way she wants it to be. Her depressive thoughts lead her to a semi-thwarted suicide attempt, and when she comes out of her coma, she decides to take charge of her life. Even though Jude may have wisdom beyond her years, her theatrical dialogue often makes her sound 40 rather than 16. Peripheral characters are not free from this curse, either. There are many life-altering moments for Jude, including her grandmother's death, her mother's abandonment and the revelation of some very dark family secrets, but they are all treated superficially. Unlikely to be popular among teens. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763622459
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 6/12/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 590L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Cathryn Clinton is the author of THE CALLING, A STONE IN MY HAND, and SIMEON'S FIRE. She says, "It is my hope that reading THE EYES OF VAN GOGH will encourage teenagers who hear the voices of sadness, pain, and fear in their own lives to find the help they need." She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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Read an Excerpt

Saturday night, Todd picked me up and we drove to the bowling alley. He didn't say anything on the way there, but he smiled as he put his arm around my shoulder, so I put my hand on his leg. I was used to taking my cues from other people in order to figure out what to do. It didn't seem like he had any issues, so I wasn't going to push anything. The bowling alley was packed, and so smoky I could hardly see. We ended up sharing a lane with an older couple we didn't know, so we didn't talk much.

After bowling we went over to the Landon Diner, but Todd was quieter than usual. Long years with Stella had taught me to play it safe, observe, and be quiet when I wasn't sure what the other person was going to say next, so I didn't say much. I gave one- or two-word answers to his two questions about my day. I was comfortable with my own silence. I was concentrating on his. Todd ate a whole plate of fries while I ate two of mine. I doodled in catsup with another one.

Todd said, "Are you going to eat those?"

"No," I answered, pushing the plate across the table. "Help yourself."

When he finished eating, he said, "I've got to get home to do some calculus. And my family is harvesting tomorrow, so it will be a long day." I willed myself not to react. I opened my purse and looked for lip balm. While I was putting it on, the waitress came and brought the bill. Todd walked over to pay it. I watched him, glad that I hadn't let him see my eyes. He might have seen pleading in them, and I didn't want to be pathetic. I was sure my eyes would have told him that I wanted more than just bowling and small talk. I wanted to feel safe, reassured the way I had before, when I had been in his arms.

When he came back, he sat down. I was surprised that he wasn't immediately moving toward the truck. I pretended to brush food off my legs, but I was really kneading my knuckle on my thigh. Then I stacked his plate on mine and pushed our glasses toward the edge of the table.

"You want to go for a ride?" he finally asked. I almost fell sideways with relief. I hoped the ride would end up with us making love. I wanted him to slowly kiss me all over, telling me that he loved me. But when we parked, Todd just pulled me around to the back of his truck and it was over in a few minutes.

Afterward, Todd pulled the quilt around us. Then he hugged me as I shivered on the cold truck bed. I whispered to Todd that I loved him. He kissed me on my ear. We heard a car in the distance, and we stuffed ourselves into our pants as fast as we could.

He didn't say anything when he dropped me off in front of the apartment. As I went upstairs, my brain said, See? Everything is fine, but a little buzzer located somewhere near my stomach kept going off like a demented alarm clock. It said things weren't so fine.

As I got ready for bed, I realized that he hadn't said that he loved me. They're just three words, and God knows they're overused, but I wanted to hear them anyway. I couldn't help it.

I whispered them out loud in the dark. I could almost see them drifting up toward the stars on my ceiling. The very sounds of the words themselves could produce reality. They did for me. If Todd said them to me, they would lay claim to a part of his soul, like fence posts around a field. Of course, he could just lie and say those words to make me happy. But Todd wasn't like that; there was a deep-down honesty about him that I believed in.

When we lived in California, I slept in the laundry room. One night, a bird flew into our dryer vent and got stuck. The awful flapping of its wings as it kept beating against the vent woke me up. I wanted the bird to get out, but I didn't know how to help it. I peeked into the dryer, but it wasn't in there. I yelled for Stella, but she didn't come. The bird kept making this awful screeching noise, and when I couldn't stand it any longer, I jumped out of bed and hid in the closet. I covered my ears and hummed. An hour or so later, when I came out of the closet, I heard one noise, and then it was quiet. I screamed for my mother again and again, but I was alone with the dead bird in the vent.

Sometimes I wake up feeling like the bird is inside of me. It's beating its wings, and this god-awful screeching is going on. When the noise stops, I'm left with the dead silence. It wasn't a good sign that I woke up with the bird on Monday morning.

In poetry we were reading Ezra Pound and starting our big writing projects, writing our own poetry books. A lot of my poems had ideas from van Gogh. I read his letters at night when I couldn't sleep. My poem for Tuesday was "A Way of Looking."

Van Gogh had gone on believing and looking for the same things, even though his life just took one bad turn after another. I still loved Todd. Was that so dumb? I didn't think my love life was going to turn out like van Gogh's tragic romance. I hoped not. Look what it did to him. I could feel the frenetic cells inside my head. Were they van Gogh's or mine?

I was beginning to hate the melodrama of it all. It was becoming too Stella. Was the melodrama floating around me like the leftover smell of cooked fish in the kitchen on a winter day? Could others smell it?

John Mark said that he was getting a car sometime that week. He and his dad were going looking, and he was starting practice for Romeo and Juliet, even though the play wasn't until March. That translated to we wouldn't be seeing him much.

Our football team had made it to the district playoffs, so Todd rushed out of art class after ten minutes. More practice.

I tried to paint a sweet gum tree, but I couldn't get it. The colors ran together. They weren't strong enough. They muddled into gray, gray, gray.

_____

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