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Blood Water Paint

Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough
Blood Water Paint

Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough


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"Haunting ... teems with raw emotion, and McCullough deftly captures the experience of learning to behave in a male-driven society and then breaking outside of it."—The New Yorker 

"I will be haunted and empowered by Artemisia Gentileschi's story for the rest of my life."—Amanda Lovelace, bestselling author of the princess saves herself in this one

A William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist
2018 National Book Award Longlist

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome's most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

Joy McCullough's bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia's heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia's most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman's timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

★"A captivating and impressive."—Booklist, starred review
★"Belongs on every YA shelf."—SLJ, starred review
★"Haunting."—Publishers Weekly, starred review 
★"Luminous."—Shelf Awareness, starred review

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735232112
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/06/2018
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Joy McCullough writes books and plays from her home in the Seattle area, where she lives with her family. She studied theater at Northwestern University, fell in love with her husband atop a Guatemalan volcano, and now spends her days surrounded by books and kids and chocolate. Her debut novel, Blood Water Paint, was longlisted for National Book Award and was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award

Read an Excerpt


Once upon a time
I was a child,
not the woman of the house.
Not so long ago but long enough the days of tugging on my mother’s skirts in hopes of being lifted up at every whim are hazy round the edges,
like a shadow bleeding into light.
It’s hazy how,
her belly round with brothers,
Mother still made room for me to crawl up on her lap to hear a story no one else would tell.
How she’d look down 
and ask me what I thought of Father’s paintings,
listen to my answer.
It’s hazy how she made my father laugh.
How when I’d startle in the night she’d soothe me with a tune to chase away the monsters.
It’s hazy how her last few weeks,
confined to bed,
the child inside a greater weight than those who came before,
and even when the child arrived
                a sister, finally, cold and blue,
and fever dreams bled into pain laced with delirium,
Prudentia Montone spent the last of her strength to burn into my mind the tales of women no one else would think to tell.
Those stories of a righteous woman,
her virtue questioned through no fault of her own;
of a widow with nothing left to lose . . .
No way to tell where shadow ends and light begins
but Mother was always
                                                the light.
Light dances on the child’s curls and whether Father sees or not the bond between the baby and his mother is perfection.
Twelve years with my mother were not enough but I know how to paint the love,
the source of light.
The final touches that remain would go unnoticed to an unskilled eye.
In truth, I could release her now.
A signature the final touch,
                Orazio Gentileschi,
                (never Artemisia)
the client would be satisfied,
and none would be the wiser.
But I would know her arm is
                                not quite right.
It wraps around the baby,
yet still looks flat.
Father babbled out some useless nonsense when I tried to ask him how to fix the problem.
I don’t think he understood my question.
If he cannot see the problem to begin with,
how could he ever solve it?
It’s only a commission,
doesn’t even bear my name.
But I’m not only painting the Madonna.
I’m building a ladder,
each new technique,
a rung.

Every time my father shoos me down the stairs away from my studio,
each time he speaks to buyers
                as though I am not there,
each time they leer at me
                as I descend in seething fury,
my mother’s stories stoke the flames inside.
We mostly deal in Bible tales,
some portraits, ancient histories, myths.
But all the maestros sign their names to David, Adam, Moses.
Those who follow strive to leave their mark as well.
I can paint a David—king or upstart boy,
but when I do there’s nothing of me on the canvas.
Susanna, though, is different.
My mother never held a brush but still composed the boldest images from the brightest colors drawing the eye—the mind—
to what mattered most:
                the young woman
                stealing a moment
                of peace to wash
                away the day
                                then her world,
                                stained beyond repair.
Susanna and the Elders.
Father’s made attempts at Susanna,
just like the other painters—men—
who think they have the right to tell the story of a woman always watched.
But one can’t truly tell a story unless they’ve lived it in their heart.
The longer I’m shuffled in and out of the studio,
used for what I can offer,
not what I long to share,
the more certain I am
I can do Susanna justice.
I can do my mother justice.
I can have justice.
But I’m holding back until I think perhaps my skills can match my heart.
My arm cradles my palette,
rounded, three-dimensional.
I paint alla prima in my mind exactly how it should look.
Why then can I not transpose
                the image in my mind
                the image of my flesh onto the canvas?
I stare at the Madonna’s flat, flat arm so long my eyes begin to blur.
I do not notice the creak of stairs
                moan of door
                                steps that cross
                                                the studio.
Or perhaps he does not enter like a mortal man but appears fully formed a miraculous apparition.
                                a breath
                                upon my cheek.
Not Father’s breath.
I grope for hiked-up skirts,
fling endless, heavy layers of propriety toward my ankles.
I am a model Roman girl
(or I can play the part at least).
The man averts his eyes,
steps back to give me space,
as though he doesn’t realize his mere presence in this room drives out all air.
He may as well be pressed against me.
He did not mean to startle—
that much is clear.
And even now as I
                                steady my breath
                                check my skirts once more his eyes are not on me but on the canvas.
                                               My name is Agostino Tassi.
                                               And you are Artemisia.

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