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Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand
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Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand
Apr 12, 2012 | ISBN 9781101567043

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  • Apr 12, 2012 | ISBN 9781101567043 | Young Adult

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Kirkus Reviews STARRED REVIEW  A 20th-century teen artist and 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud transcend time and place in this luminous paean to the transformative power of art.

In September 1977, 18-year-old Merle leaves rural Virginia to attend the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C.  Her drawings catch the eye of drawing instructor Clea, who initiates a romantic relationship with Merle. Overwhelmed by the sophisticated urban art scene, Merle drifts out of school. When Clea drops her, a homeless Merle desperately spray-paints her signature sun-eye graffiti across the city until she encounters a mercurial tramp who mystically connects her with the visionary Rimbaud, in the bloom of his artistic powers at age 16. Incredulous over their stunning time travel, Merle and Rimbaud recognize they are kindred spirits who live to create. Hand deftly alternates between Merle’s first-person, past-tense story and a third-person account of Rimbaud during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871-72, laced with excerpts from his poems and letters. Suffused with powerful images of light, this intensely lyrical portrait of two androgynous young artists who magically traverse a century to briefly escape their equally disturbing worlds expands the themes of artistic isolation and passion Hand first introduced in Illyria (2010).   

An impressive blend of biography and magical realism. (author’s notes; select bibliography)

Publishers Weekly  STARRED REVIEW Hand (Illyria) returns with a surreal tale of art’s ability to transcend time. In 1978, Merle Tappitt, a talented painter and graffiti artist, is kicked out of art school (where she had been having an affair with a teacher). Merle takes to the streets of Washington, D.C., and runs into a legendary, now homeless guitarist, Ted Kampfert, who points her toward a lockhouse by a canal where she can spend the night. Meanwhile, in 1870, 16-year-old poet Arthur Rimbaud sets out for Paris, also bedding down in a lockhouse. The next morning, Merle and Arthur awake together in 1978. Merle and Arthur, both gay, form a mystical bond, time-slipping between their worlds, each influencing the other to produce great art. Hand’s descriptions of art and poetry as they are being made are breathtaking—“In front of me was a whorl of black and red, emerald vines and orange flame, a shifting wheel of shadowy forms like those cave paintings drawn in charcoal”—and her troubled, beautifully drawn characters make the heart ache. Ages 14–up. Agent: Martha Millard, Martha Millard Literary Agency. (Apr.)

BookPage Vibrant . . . Explores the meaning and making of art, and the intensity of being young. — Deborah Hopkinson

Booklist Introduces readers to Arthur Rimbaud, “the patron saint of young artists,” and his expansive sphere of influence in a way that will capture readers’ interest. Hand’s strong suit is conjuring up vivid images . . . Merle’s narrative is rendered in beautiful, frustrated, and disbelieving first person [and Rimbaud’s]  detailed, and evocative flight of fancy is a stirring tribute to a man and his art.

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy I just want you to go read this.It is an amazing, awesome, scarily brilliant book. Scary because it is so flawless, so exciting, so magical. Scary because I’m not sure how to capture that magic and show it to you.

Liz Burns

Booklist While reading Radiant Days, it becomes clear that what elevates Hand’s work above that of her peers and makes her one of the strongest writers for teens today is the gorgeousness of her language. Readers of her adult mysteries and sly fantasies will have learned to expect nothing less but for teens navigating a sea of interchangeable and forgettable paranormal titles, the images and emotions Hand conjures up will likely startle and shock. In the voice of Arthur she writes: "People want poetry to be a nursemaid. I want to be a murderer and a thief. Art should be… ugly, and hurt so you can feel it. That’s what makes it powerful."

By showing Arthur Rimbaud as a modern day hero on par with the significance of Kurt Cobain, or Jack Kerouac before him, Hand shows that nothing is beyond her literary reach. Radiant Days is a most startling achievement.

Colleen Mondor

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