In this sensitive portrayal of a budding artist from newcomer Mullen, 14-year-old Liam O’Malley is consumed by the idea of becoming a graffiti writer. After Liam gets embroiled in a rivalry between local gangs and his grades slip, his mother sends him away from their home in the projects of Minneapolis to spend the summer with her friend Kat in tiny Lakeshore, Mich. Kat, a sculptor, provides a calm and supportive temporary home for Liam, who becomes inspired by the tranquil landscape, researches a variety of artists including Basquiat and Picasso, and begins to let go of his resentment surrounding his upbringing. Soon Liam has to decide between returning home to serve as a role model for his siblings or pursuing his dreams independently. Short chapters and clipped phrases give Liam’s narrative the punchy impact of graffiti: “No sirens in two weeks. No black-and-whites driving around, either. No cops standing in stores. None walking the streets. Nothing,” Liam reflects on his new environment. A powerful story about the positive effects of change.
Budding graffiti artist Liam lives in the Minneapolis projects, where he struggles to resist the influence of the Irish mafia. After older brother Kieran coerces Liam to tag over a rival gang’s symbol, and Liam’s grades start slipping, their mother sends Liam to Lakeshore, MI, to live with her friend Kat for the summer. Liam is initially unimpressed with small-town life, but Kat gives him access to her studio and art history books. Liam finds inspiration in famous black artist and former graffitist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and combines elements from Picasso’s and Basquiat’s work to create his own style of street art that is accepted by the community. Mullen’s main theme is the acceptance of graffiti as art, but she also explores concepts of existing versus living and artistic legacy as Liam finds his identity as an artist. Basquiat’s real-life struggles give Liam much to consider. Present tense and clipped sentences provide immediacy and make this good for reluctant readers. VERDICT Recommended for those interested in street art and urban literatur, and fans of Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon (Knopf, 2012).
–School Library Journal