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My Not-So-Still Life
     

My Not-So-Still Life

4.3 4
by Liz Gallagher
 

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Vanessa is wise beyond her years. She's never really fit in at school, where all the kids act and dress the same. She's an artist who expresses her talent in the wacky colors she dyes her hair, her makeup and clothes. She's working on her biggest art project, and counting the days until she's grown up and can really start living. That adult world seems closer when

Overview

Vanessa is wise beyond her years. She's never really fit in at school, where all the kids act and dress the same. She's an artist who expresses her talent in the wacky colors she dyes her hair, her makeup and clothes. She's working on her biggest art project, and counting the days until she's grown up and can really start living. That adult world seems closer when Vanessa gets her dream job at the art supply store, Palette, where she worships the couple who runs it, Oscar and Maye. And she's drawn to a mysterious guy named James, who leads her into new, sometimes risky situations. Is she ready for this world, or not?

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Alice and Jewel, the main characters from Gallagher's The Opposite of Invisible (2009), become bit players in this story about 16-year-old Vanessa, an artist (and Jewel's ex) who feels stifled by high school life: "I want to break completely free. I want to be out of bounds, out where it's all color and everything's beautiful, even when it's a mess." And Vanessa creates her share of messes. She adores her best friends Holly and Nick, but alienates both of them, trying to force a connection between Holly and her crush, while pressing Nick, who's gay, to be more confident about his sexuality. More bad decisions follow as Vanessa gets involved with an older skateboarder and attempts to make a statement with public art. For all the trappings of the outsider indie artist that Vanessa flaunts (pink hair, fishnet stockings, miniskirts, job at an art supply store), she's actually quite insecure, naïve, and—gasp—normal underneath. That is perhaps where Gallagher's story is most successful: demonstrating that even the most outwardly confident teens often still have a lot of growing up to do. Ages 14–up. (May)
VOYA - Laura Lehner-Ennis
Sixteen-year-old Vanessa is an artist from head to toe and down to her soul. She lives and breathes art, along with her best friends; Nick, a comic book artist, and Holly, a musician. Faced with an artist's block when preparing for the school's spring art show, and restless with what she considers a hum-drum life, she gets a job at a local art shop. She finds what she is looking for—inspiration, discounts on supplies, and some romantic excitement befitting a true artist, but her push to grow up and be able to express her true self gets her into trouble at school and with Holly, and she wonders if it is all worth it. This companion book to The Opposite of Invisible (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2008/VOYA February 2008) takes place at the same school in Seattle and shares a few of the same characters. Vanessa is a minor, but pivotal, player in the first book, and references to that plot connect the two, but this one stands on its own quite well. The message about the costs of expressing yourself without regard for the big picture of your relationships is well-drawn, and the writing is clean and uncomplicated, making it a good choice for struggling teen readers. Reviewer: Laura Lehner-Ennis
Children's Literature - Shawn Buckenmeyer
Sixteen year old Vanessa is an artist. She creates art, breathes art, and dresses as an artist. She would like to think of herself as a work of art. My Not-So-Still Life is a coming of age story. Vanessa is a very self-assured young woman wanting to grow up too fast. Readers get to follow along on a journey of self-discovery as Vanessa deals with very adult situations. Vanessa is a realistic, well developed character with strengths and flaws. At times she comes across as a little self-absorbed and some readers may have a hard time connecting with her. The supporting characters are fun but just a bit one-dimensional. The beginning of the story suffers from some spots of slow pacing but the in-depth descriptions of how an artist thinks and sees thing makes up for that. Over all, this is a pleasant read about a girl trying desperately to find her true self. Reviewer: Shawn Buckenmeyer
Kirkus Reviews

A self-proclaimed artist learns lessons about friendship, thoughtfulness and the importance of having something to say.

Restless, exuberant and brightly colored in pink hair and rainbow eye shadow, Vanessa knows she's not like the other "zombie kids" at her Seattle high school. Living with her Grampie and her dockworker mother, who settled down after becoming pregnant with her as a teenager, Vanessa longs for freedom and adulthood and assumes those around her do too (she constantly insists her mother should go on more dates, for instance). Readers instantly see the hurt she causes, despite her justifications, when Vanessa crosses boundaries to give the people in her life what she thinks they want—outing her gay best friend or spilling the beans to her shy musician friend Holly's crush. Her desire for new, transformative experiences is clear as she falls in with an older artist crowd and makes dubious, impulsive choices involving an older boy, a fake ID and a pinup calendar. The device of an art teacher helping her realize deeper truths about herself and her art feels familiar, and the insinuation that dyeing one's hair pink is merely a ploy for attention seems more like an adult's assumption than a teen's experience.

An adequate portrait of an art-obsessed teen, but, unlike Vanessa, it doesn't stand out. (Fiction. 12-14)

School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—High school sophomore Vanessa is in a rush to grow up. She fashions herself as the "artistic rebel girl," frequently coloring her hair, wearing a colored bracelet to reflect her daily mood, and selecting clothes that express her inner creativity. She considers the world her canvas and has no use for instruction, let alone convention. Superimposed on her immature perspective is the well-grounded behavior of her two best friends, Nick and Holly. When Vanessa nabs a job at a funky art-supply store where, in her impressionable mind, other cool artists work, she quickly falls into a relationship with a young man a few years older than she whose source of income is fake IDs, and she finds herself promising to pose for his creative outlet-a pinup calendar. As her infatuation with the group at Palette increases, she becomes careless and insensitive toward her friends and her family. Her impetuous actions steer her toward social and emotional screwups and, in her willful zest to be free and expressive, she mucks up more than she creates. Much of Vanessa's narrative is the energized chatter of an overzealous teen, but readers will soon catch on that she's a well-intentioned girl struggling against the protection of those who try to guide and teach her. Ultimately, this theme is perhaps a bit heavy-handed, and the character development is disappointing. If you're looking for a strong novel that represents the passion, idiosyncrasies, and foibles of an artist, choose Gary Paulsen's The Monument (Delacorte, 1991).—Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375841545
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
05/10/2011
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

One

It's time for a new color.

I drape my Smurfette towel over my shoulders and yell, "I'm ready for pink!"

Nick joins me in my bathroom. He unpacks the bleach kit, the bottle of dye.

We do this so often, we've got it down to a science. Nick gets everything prepped, using the back of the toilet as his work space.

An hour later, I'm blowing my new hair dry while Nick plays with eyeliner at my desk.

"The pink looks hot," he says when I come out of the bathroom. "It's so bright."

"I love it," I say. It reminds me of cherry blossoms, my favorite.

Here's why I change my hair color so much: All the talent in the world doesn't equal an actual personality. It's not enough to only make the art. You have to be the artist.

Since sixth grade I've been all sorts of other colors. They were all starting to blend on top of each other, though, so it was a mess. Now that we've bleached it out and started over with the pink, I feel like myself, like a good version of me, like something worth looking at, twice. And that's what I want. If people don't notice me, why should I do anything? Why even exist?

"Nice job coloring in the lines," I say to Nick.

"Coloring in the lines" is all about comics. Nick likes to draw, but he's better at doing color than outlines. He and a boy called Jewel started a strip together freshman year, before I was close with either of them. Not that I'm close with Jewel anymore.

Their strip lasted for only a few months. They'd get color copies at the copy shop by school and put a stack on a table during each of their lunch periods, all nonchalant, like they didn't care if anyone picked it up or not. People did. I'm not totally sure why the guys stopped, except that neither one of them seems to have a long attention span. Not for projects, and not for relationships.

In comics, there's the penciler, the inker, and the colorist. Sometimes they're all the same person, and sometimes people are great at one or two parts, so they specialize. The penciler sketches the general feeling of each panel. That was Jewel. The inker does the outlines, the black, the final artwork. That was Jewel, too. The colorist does the color, the lighting, the shading. That's Nick, prettying up everything around him.

That's me, too, in general. A colorist. Giving life to a black-and-white world.

Nick's pretty colorful himself, at least in his clothes. Jet-black hair works on him, so he's kept that up since the fall, and it looks especially good when he wears his neon tank tops and tees. He loves his eighties hoodie with the electric-blue star on the back, outlined in silver glitter.

He's actually dialed it down, adding jeans and sneakers to the mix, but for a while there in the fall, he always looked like he was on his way to a rave. He's the sweetest guy you've ever met, though, and he doesn't go to raves.

Tonight, he's wearing my black T-shirt with the metallic stars, his favorite Euro-style jeans, and his silver adidas Superstars. He dresses the same whether he's at school, hanging out in my bedroom, or going out, which for us usually means taking the bus to grab coffee or food and watch Seattle go by while Seattle watches us.

I'm in my black cotton tank dress. It's stained with paint splotches and drips of bleach from various hair experiments, and those stains are the reason it's my favorite thing to wear around the house. At school, I dress in a way my mom considers "wild," but really it's not that crazy. When I go out, I wear school-type clothes with more intense makeup.

"I nuked you a snack," Nick says, nodding toward the plate on my bed. My mom and Grampie always stock our freezer with microwave burritos, the healthy ones with the whole-wheat tortillas. Except for the weeks after they do their big salmon grab.

They love salmon, the ocean, and Puget Sound. Grampie was a lifer longshoreman until he retired last year, and Mom still works at the docks. Grampie jokes that they have water in their veins.

They go out fishing with a friend on his boat, leaving the port in Ballard before sunrise, and they fish salmon till the sun goes down. They do this for a solid week. Then they host this party in our tiny backyard for everyone we know, and they smoke the salmon.

Burritos are more to my liking. I sit down to munch. "Thanks."

Nick's eating at my desk. He went minimal with his eyes, just a touch of brown liner at the outside corners.

He picks up my phone and snaps a photo of me when I'm off guard. "To show Holly your hair," he says. My friend Holly doesn't usually leave her house on weeknights, except for orchestra practice.

"Send it," I say, so Nick does.

Mom pokes her head in the door. Her curly brown hair is in a messy ponytail as usual, and she has zero makeup on. At least she keeps a decent tan from working outside. It's not the kind of tan you'd get in a sunny place, of course, but the sun does break through, even in Seattle, and she does ten-hour shifts at the docks. She's in her gray sweats. You can tell how strong she is from her hard work. Still, she's feminine. Her voice is so warm. "Pink. Hmmm. Not bad."

"Thanks," I say.

Mom looks at Nick before going back to the family room to watch TV with Grampie. "Ten o'clock, hon."

"Time flies when you're coloring Vanessa." He grabs his backpack and I walk him to the front door, give him a quick hug goodbye. "Art walk tomorrow night?"

"Absolutely," I say. "Holly might be able to come too."

"Superb." He heads out the door.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

LIZ GALLAGHER is the author of The Opposite of Invisible. She received her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and resides in Seattle, Washington.

From the Hardcover edition.

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My Not-So-Still Life 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
Vanessa Almond is an artist through and through. In fact, she changes her hair color like most people change their shorts. Vanessa is a fun, open girl who believes that in order to be an artist, you have to be the art. Nick is Vanessa's best friend - a young, gay boy who is trying to figure out his goals and the next steps he has in front of him in order to get the future that he wants. Nick is funny, sweet, charming, and believes in pure and utter color - just like Vanessa. Nick is a colorist for comics and, like Vanessa, loves to bring color to a boring black and white word. Vanessa has a very nice family. Although her father left when she was young and is now married and living somewhere else, Vanessa's Mom is an extremely hard worker down at the docks and devotes herself to being a Mom and taking care of her family. Grandpa also lives with Vanessa and her Mom, and in addition to being retired and catching salmon he also likes to spend his time doing crosswords. The one thing that gets Vanessa into trouble at times is her want and need to grow up and be "free." She likes to take charge and make decisions that her age is not quite ready for, but Vanessa is strong-willed and just as colorful as her bright pink hair. Her ex-boyfriend, an artist named Jewel, is still someone that Vanessa is trying to get over, and the reader gets to follow Vanessa and watch her as she struggles to make decisions, work at her first job, and try desperately to help her mother not work so hard all the time. Her other best friend is Holly. This is a young girl who plays the cello and has a crush on a boy who she desperately wants to talk to but hasn't gotten up the courage to do so. Unfortunately, Vanessa takes it upon herself to bring the two together, as well as pushing Nick to be open and free with who he is, even though it's beyond difficult for him. This writer has done a wonderful job in showing how difficult it is to be a teenager. And Vanessa, a girl who strives to be different and not worry that she's categorized as a 'freak' by her peers, has to learn that growing up too fast is something that can hurt far more than it can help. Quill Says: Vanessa is a character that all ages will identify with, and teaching the lesson to "live" life instead of just sitting back and watching it go by is extremely heartfelt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it!!!! But is for matured readers who can handle real life situations!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
iCarlyGleek More than 1 year ago
This book is a great & fast read for anyone who is interested in art or for anyone that likes a good book! Highly recommended!