Raphaelle is sixteen and always seems to get herself in trouble, no matter what she does. She can’t seem to do anything–even draw, which she loves–without angering someone. When her father moves her family to a smaller city, Raphaelle wants to leave behind her rebel persona and start fresh, but it isn’t long before “Ella” reverts to her radical ways, causing waves at her school and attracting the eye of a boy named Samir–a Palestinian Muslim who is very different from her Catholic family.
Gabrielle Prendergast’s strong verse novel is chock-full of action, memorable characters, and provocative themes. A thoroughly modern take on finding one’s identity, this novel is sparse with words but paints a vivid picture. Readers should devour this one and wait eagerly for its planned follow-up.
Ella is a strong narrator, offering readers insight into her fragile family life (her mother harbors an eating disorder, her sister seems to do no wrong, and her father ignores everyone) and her own psyche. She wants more than anything to do what she believes to be the right thing but also remain true to herself and her beliefs, but she keeps finding that the two cannot coexist peacefully. Her radical, artistic side is her true self, but she battles with it for a good portion of the book.
Also interesting are the secondary characters, which round out this rich and riveting tale. Especially noteworthy is Samir, Ella’s love interest. A Palestinian Muslim by birth, Samir is also drawn to radical art, and the two cause a stir, albeit in very different ways. Prendergast is careful to give all her characters dimension, and the story is all the better for it.
There are moments where the narrative seems to slip into a bit of didacticism, but the story as a whole is so well done that it hardly matters. Prendergast explores a plethora of topics, including religious prejudice, sex, censorship, and eating disorders, and all of it is done exceedingly well. The fact that she has such a profound understanding of the teenage search for identity comes across clearly here.
A standout. Highly recommended.
Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast. Orca Books: 2013. Electronic galley accepted via the publisher for the 2013 Cybils.