As you may have guessed from the title of today’s book, I’ve been doing a little reading about graffiti artists.
Tagged by Diane C. Mullen
Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2015
Genre: Realism, Art, Street Art
Format: Hardcover, Middle Grade
Source: Personal Collection
After his older brother coerces him into tagging over a rival gang’s symbol, Liam finds himself in deep trouble. Desperate to keep Liam protected from gang life, his mother sends him to spend the summer with her artist friend in a small town in Michigan. Liam takes this opportunity to explore his family, friends, art, and identity, to find new role models, and to establish a new direction for his life.
This book reads almost like poetry, with short chapters and quick pacing. I could see it working well for a middle grade audience and think it might be a hit with boys especially. Yet overall, I was disappointed in this book. I found the symbolism pretty heavy-handed and many of the characters flat, predictable, and unrealistic. For some reason, old men always seem to sell paint and give out free advice. Teachers always seem cool and accepting but somehow always convince the protagonist to go to art school. By the end of the book, I didn’t feel that any of the problems were really resolved. For all the heavy symbolism throughout the book, I was disappointed not to find a more definitive conclusion for Liam.
As for the art, I did think it was interesting to see Liam looking for a variety of artists for inspiration, and I like that he pursued different resources to find new ideas. He does talk a lot about practicing his art, but I found some of his explanations uninspired and rather amateur. While I realize Liam is a student and still learning more about art, I think I’d have expected more from someone for whom art is so important.
-Spoiler Alert –
I do like the fact that Liam was able to find a positive, constructive use for his street art. His mural pulls together a lot of the elements he’s learned about art, and I appreciate the fact that he learns to develop his craft in different ways while still holding true to some of his own interests. I am a little bothered by the fact that he “gives up” his St B identity. I’m not sure if I’m bothered because it seems to be part of that heavy-handed symbolism or if there seems to be more of a condemnation of graffiti art.
-End Spoiler Alert-
While I don’t condone vandalism and realize that there are often other negative connotations to graffiti, I think it’s important to recognize it as an art form itself and not necessarily a bad interest. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately that play with the idea of graffiti writer vs. artist, often including some kind of legal conflict vs. the recommendations of a trusted, well-off teacher to pursue more traditional art education. I’m bothered by this idea that graffiti always equals illegal activity because that’s not always the case. While I realize that adds a certain element of excitement to the story, I think it’s important to note that there are actually lots of places were graffiti is legal and that some graffiti is considered desirable, powerful art – think Banksy, among others.
I’d love a book where street art is treated as a valuable, worthwhile pursuit without being illegal, destructive, or spiteful. Any suggestions?
For more information:
Author Diane C. Mullen’s official website
*** 3/5 stars
Liam escapes the dangers of city life to explore his identity as an artist.
Heavy symbolism, stereotypical characters
Weaker discussion of art
Writing style and tone is well-suited to a middle grade audience