At a family meeting, Ror declares her purpose: She is an artist.
But she doesn’t really know what that means. Raised on a commune, she’s never attended a day of school, and has seen little of the outside world. What she knows best is drawing. To her, it’s like breathing; it’s how she makes sense of the world.
When her father torches the commune—and himself—Ror’s life changes. She, her mother and sister end up in a homeless residence in Manhattan, where she runs into trouble—and love—with Trey, the leader of Noise Ink, a graffiti crew.
On the city’s streets, and in its museums and galleries, Ror finds herself pulled in different directions. Her father wanted her to make classic art. Noise Ink insists she stay within their lines. Her art teacher urges her to go to college. What does she want?
Ror’s journey is a seamless blend of words and pictures, cinematic in its scopea sharp-edged, indelible work of art that will live inside your head.
About the Author
Julie Chibbaro was raised by artists in New York City, and has spent her life figuring out what makes them tick. She married an artist who has helped her enter her characters’ creative minds. Their first collaboration, the historical novel Deadly, won the National Jewish Book Award, and was named a Bank Street Best Book. Her first novel, Redemption, won the American Book Award. Visit Julie at www.juliechibbaro.com.
JM Superville Sovak is half-Trini, half-Czech, half-Canadian. His fourth half is spent making art. His work has been shown at the Manifesta European Biennial of Contemporary Art, Socrates Sculpture Park, and the Aldrich Museum. He was the illustrator for Julie Chibbaro's second novel Deadly. See more at www.supervillesovak.com.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 7 Into the Dangerous World
Somehow, I made it through that first labyrinthian day of hallways and faces and questions. The next day, the art teacher, Mr. Garci, made the biggest fuss over me being new, but I didn’t hear a word he said because I was staring at the room.
There were jars and jars of paints—red like strawberries, blue like lollipops that leave a stain on your mouth, green as a field of mint, yellow like lemons, purple as grapes broken off the vine, spheres fresh and wet in your hand. Against the wall stood stretched canvases. Were they for us? Over there, a shelf of paper—big paper, small paper—next to markers lined up in neatly chromatic rows. What did a person learn here? Did they let you do whatever you wanted? A wild cry of surprised joy strained at my throat. Doors flung open in my head—I wanted to eat paint, let it zing out my fingers, get lost in the colors in this room.
Felt like I’d been waiting to breathe. Here was air.
Kids sat at work tables cratered with the knives and pens of kids who came before. On one was written: ALL YOUR DREAMS BELONG TO US.
Everyone had a thing out in front of them—like they were each building something from cardboard.
Mr. Garci stopped them. As my eyes roamed the faces, I felt like the new polar bear in the zoo. One of those ratty, self-destructive polar bears who rub holes in their white coats, looking at all the other animals in their cages.
“Our class is a place of imagination and safety,” Mr. Garci told me. “You’re welcome here as long as you respect the creativity of others, and you don’t cut off a finger, yours or anyone else’s.”
I saw some curious faces, interesting faces, even some beautiful faces, though I couldn’t focus on any particular person. Most were like they just wanted to get back to work.
“Why don’t you tell us something about yourself, Aurora?” Mr. Garci asked.
That question again. What could I tell them about Dado, the house burning down, him trying to take us with him? I pulled my coat tighter around me.
“People call me Ror. I’m from Staten Island,” I said too fast. Judgment shimmered over the faces.
“And why did you decide to take art class?”
I blinked at the kids, thinking, The lady put me here, thinking, Drawing is the only way I can explain anything, and somehow, she knew that.
“You the rebel of the family?” I shot a look at the teacher, in jeans and a tie-dyed shirt, his long blond hair pulled into a ponytail, his open face smiling at me. He looked like a fake-o hippie. What did he know about rebels?
When I didn’t answer, he said to the class: “Okay, folks, I’m going to charge everyone here with helping Ror find her way in this classroom, is that a deal?” A couple of them looked the way I felt—like I was reading a Grimm fairy tale with the good pages glued shut. “Who wants to volunteer to explain our project to Ror?”
A long, thin boy in a black leather cap raised his finger. I met his eyes. Cool, stone, Smokey. He didn’t look away, and I felt stupidly grateful.
“You got it, Trey.” The kids went back to work as Mr. Garci made room for me at the table beside the boy.
“’Sup,” he said. He gave me a cardboard box and scissors. “You cold or somethin’?”
My numb heart longed to talk, but I didn’t want to tell him my whole sad story. I stared at the cardboard and pulled my coat closer around myself. “I may need to run outside real quick,” I managed.
“Ain’t no fire drills since I been to this school, if that’s what you’re thinkin’,” he said.
I glanced at him quickly. “What, fire?”
He held his hands up. “Yo, I was gonna say keep chill, but you already cold as ice.”
I found I couldn’t stop looking at his face. His caramel eyes were like an echo, an open cave. I tried lifting my lips into a smile, but I was out of practice. He grinned and shook his head and got back to work.
I slipped off my coat and hung it on the chair.
I looked at his box.
“We’re playing architect,” he said. “Garci says to imagine and build the house we want to live in someday.”
The dome. I’d already built it.
“You know, a real house, not no roach holes like we live in.”
Dado destroyed it.
I looked around—most of the kids had cut rectangles for the door and squares for the windows. Some taped two together to make a skyscraper, or left the box intact and marked it up. Dado and I had built a geodesic dome. I picked up the scissors and started trying to cut through the cardboard, but it was too thick. I took out my Swiss Army knife.
“Girl, you crazy? Garci’ll bust you, he sees that,” Trey said.
In four cuts, I had the thing apart. I slit the rest of the box into slats: the struts for the triangles. Next thing I knew, everybody was quiet, looking at me. I kept my head down and my hands busy. I notched the ends and fitted the pieces together into a circle. I built until Mr. Garci told us to clean up. Which I did. I put my dome on the shelf full of other houses, and left the room when the bell rang, before that Trey guy could say anything more to me.
By the end of that first week, I felt like I had a sign stuck on my back, one that glowed: DO NOT APPROACH. I came home to find Ma at the table, brushing out this brown and blonde wig while Marilyn sat on the couch, her books spread on the floor, her hair sprayed big and tied with a pink and gray ribbon, her wrists ringed with black rubber bracelets. I felt a weird vibe. They were up to something.
“Ror, I got this for you,” Ma said. I threw my keys onto the table and walked around her, not sure what to expect. With frantic purpose, she spent her days knitting and tying knots into every bit of yarn she could find, like her creations would fix us somehow, if only she worked fast enough. Today, she wore a new smock she’d sewn by hand. It fit her wrong. Was she gaining weight? She seemed sick and strange. She’d had some job interview to teach something at the YMCA and she wouldn’t get it, looking like that.
“Me? A wig?” I asked, looking at my sister. “Whose idea might that be?”
"Not mine. I think you need some decent shoes,” Marilyn said, “not those shitkickers.”
“My social worker said the wig would help you with your identity,” Ma said, spinning the thing around with a frown of doubt. “I don’t know if that’s true.”
Maybe before, I would have let them make clothes for me, or change the way I looked. But we were here now. I took off my cap and ran my fingers up the back of my short hair. I had snipped off the ragged edges. The itch was starting to go away. “What’s wrong with my identity?” I asked.
“I told Ma how I heard kids talking in school. They think you’re a psychopath,” Marilyn said.
Was that why no one spoke to me? Was it the knife?
“I’m not wearing any wig,” I said.
“Come on. You’ll be like Andy,” Marilyn said. Now I knew it was really her idea. She loved Andy Warhol because he hung out with Halston and Bianca Jagger. Andy wore a platinum wig—he used it to change himself, to become someone else. I loved him for all his off-centered prints, the way he went outside the lines. I took the wig from the table and looked at it. “It’ll soften you up,” Marilyn added.
“I worry you don’t feel womanly, Ror,” Ma said.
What the hell? At 17, did I need to feel womanly? Why would I ever in my fucking life need to feel womanly?
I put the thing on my head anyway and looked in the mirror. Awful. Marilyn sighed, came over, and switched it around. I’d had it on backwards. Better. Much better. I even looked kind of sexy.
“You look like a girl again,” Ma said.
“Maybe you’ll stop acting like a burn victim,” Marilyn said.
“I am a burn victim,” I said.
“Ror, please, it was only a minor burn. Hair takes time to grow,” said Ma.
But all that grew was this chick fuzz, only my bangs still long in front.
“I broke my fingers falling out that window. You don’t see me acting psycho.” Marilyn held up the bandaged left hand that she carefully wrapped in clean gauze every day.
“Just because I’m not a slave to fashion doesn’t mean I’m psycho.”
“You do need to spruce up your wardrobe, Ror,” Ma said, tapping her chin with a finger. “I wish I had my sewing machine. Marilyn, help me, what can we do here?”
My sister was the Dime Store Fashion Maven. She could come out of Woolworth’s with cheap accessories and make them look like a million bucks, or at least a hundred. Me, I could wrap pearls around my neck and still look like a swine. The way I used markers and pen, my hands were never clean. In my brain, it wasn’t a contest—staying clean and pretty, or drawing something on paper, on my hands, my arms, my pants.
I stood up straight in the mirror and poofed out the fake bangs. I’d rather Ma got me a rainbow wig, long and straight to my waist. I just couldn’t see myself in this brown-blond mess seriously walking into that high school. I could already hear the whispers behind my back—What is it, Halloween?—What is she supposed to be? Oh, my God, ha ha ha!
Since when did I ever care what other people thought?
I did. I cared. Shit, everybody cared unless you were blind or dumb, and even people like that cared. I was just really good at stuffing the care down inside me, swallowing it and digesting it and spitting it out.
I cared what Dado thought and he was gone and now I didn’t know what to care about.
My sister came over with a shoebox of beads and lace; she sorted out a headband and pushed it down around the wig.
“There,” she said.
I looked into the mirror. I looked like I belonged in that movie Hair. Like some TV hippie. I pulled the thing down around my neck, flipped the wig sideways, and bared my teeth. Now I looked like I was in a band with Sid Vicious.
"Does this make me seem less of a psychopath?” I laughed.
They didn’t answer.
I took off the wig and choker, ignoring their disappointed faces. “Ma, Marilyn, I appreciate your thoughtful efforts, but no thanks.” I left the stuff on the table, and got to drawing.
What People are Saying About This
PRAISE AND AWARDS FOR JULIE CHIBBARO:
“Paced like a medical thriller, Deadly is the rare Y.A. novel in which a girl’s intellectual interests trump adolescent romance.”—The New York Times
“An ambitious first novel . . . It's the exciting nonstop action and Lily's spiritual battle with her own guilt and with God that draw readers along.”—Booklist on Redemption
Redemption: Winner of the American Book Award
Deadly: Winner of the National Jewish Book Award
A Top Ten Amelia Bloomer Project Selection
A Bank Street Best Book
A NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This novel will keep teens reading to the end. It's gritty without being too dark, and positive without being maudlin. The characters each face unique issues about identity, and Chibbaro makes those struggles feel real. The art (I call it "art" instead of "illustrations" because it's that good!) will give readers so much to think about and even want to talk about. I loved the scenes, the "feel" of the novel, which takes place in NYC in the 1980s. Give this to a teen who seems hard to reach. I think it will build a bridge.
An original and wonderful book. Fourteen-year-old Aurora (Ror) is being homeschooled in a commune on Staten Island by her crazy countercultural father. He teaches her about William Blake, art, and together they build a geodesic dome out of old lumber. But all this is past history when INTO THE DANGEROUS WORLD opens. Ror's dad sets fire to their home and kills himself (probably on purpose but we aren't clear about that), and she and her mother and sister are suddenly homeless, free and bereft. They are moved into an SRO in Manhattan and she goes to public high school for the first time. It's the 1980s and Aurora encounters a whole new world of young graffiti artists and finds herself powerfully attracted to their style, their ideals and their goals--not to mention the handsome young group leader who also lives in her SRO. Her sister, who is trying to be as conventional as possible, completely disapproves. And her teachers and the guy who runs the art supply store think she could be so much more of an artist if only she set her sights high enough. Can Ror make it in the conventional gallery world that rejected her father? Does she WANT to be part of that world? Who is she REALLY? Accompanying this absorbing story are wonderful illustrations in a wide array of styles including graffiti art, which add presence and help immeasurably in bringing the period to life. The author quotes snippets of Blake here and there that also add depth and texture to the writing. My favorite thing about this book is that it pulls no punches, avoids easy solutions to deep and complicated problems. A lot of profanity makes it more realistic too. Aurora remains deeply ambivalent about her father, conformity, the art world, graffiti, the boy she's interested in, and it all makes sense. This is no afterschool special with a resolution after 22 minutes including commercials.