REVIEW: The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

June 13, 2017

 

SYNOPSIS: Collin James is young, creative, and unhappy. A college dropout, he waits tables and spends his free time beautifying the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his medium of choice: chalk. Collin’s art captivates passersby with its vibrant colors and intricate lines—until the moment he wipes it all away. Nothing in Collin’s life is meant to last. Then he meets Nina. . . .

 

The daughter of a tech mogul who is revolutionizing virtual reality, Nina Lazare is trying to give back as a high school teacher—but her students won’t listen to her. When Collin enters her world, he inspires her to think bigger. Nina wants to return the favor—even if it means losing him.

 

Against this poignant backdrop, Allegra Goodman paints a tableau of students, neighbors, and colleagues: Diana, a teenage girl trying to make herself invisible; her twin brother, Aidan, who’s addicted to the games produced by Nina’s father; and Daphne, a viral-marketing trickster who unites them all, for better or worse.

 

GENRE: Fiction, Young Adult-Crossover-Adult

RATING: ★★★☆☆/ 3.5 multifaceted stars.

 

REVIEW: If you follow my Instagram account then you might know that chalk art is kinda "my thing"...and if you don't follow my Instagram account, well, you're crazy! What are you doing with your life? I don't mean to toot my own horn here but, I'm kind of a big deal (or maybe that's just what my mom told me that one time right before she also told me I'm a crazy monkey). You know what? Nevermind, you do you, it's all good, no need to follow my Instagram.

 

The point I was trying to get to, is that chalk art and I aren't strangers, so when Random House asked me if I would like an early copy of THE CHALK ARTIST for review, I had to say yes! And I'm glad I did.

 

Okay, a 3.5 star rating may seem low but actually this was a solid 4 star read for me up until one specific moment. It was actually an incredibly small, almost throw-away, moment that happened later in the book. One of the characters is walking through the park/woods when the author describes two pit bulls scent her and run at her, growling and red-eyed. They're not strays, in fact their owner comes up right behind them very nonchalant. Now once again, if you follow my Instagram, you may know that I am a huge pit bull and bully breed advocate. Specifically painting pit bulls as unprovoked-ly vicious (especially in a two sentence, non plot necessary, throw away) just doesn't sit well with me. If the author wanted to illustrate the owner's nature by using his dogs as a metaphor then I can understand, to a point, but it still didn't feel necessary because the owner was not a big, medium, or even small character. He was nearly nothing. And even still, I will push for a non-breed specific dog to be used. Bully breeds are so misunderstood as it is and these small moments just perpetuate a hateful and hurtful stereotype. So for that I mentally had to knock out half a star.

 

Now, I'll have to shout it just as loud that this is not a reason to avoid this book! Because apart from the little blip (which you are now aware of and we can all move on), this was a 4 star book, all the way. As I was reading it, the best way I could think to describe it was to compare it to the film, LOVE, ACTUALLY. It was a weaving of stories, in which some characters connect directly and others indirectly, but the feeling was nearly the same as I get from the movie. Sweet and sad moments, some touching and others bittersweet. As well as a cast of characters that are flawed and struggling each in their own way. It was very easy to see yourself reflected in some of the cast that Goodman has written.

 

 

There are other comparisons to be drawn in this book (Goodman seems to like the underlying themes approach). The temporary nature of chalk art and even art beyond that as a reflection on the temporaries of our everyday lives. The wider range of ages being represented and how that may or may not translate to actual maturation. Ideals and realism in equal measure expressed by video games and teaching. There is a lot packed into this book and it's told very well. I became so entrenched in the story that I felt I couldn't read it fast enough. I wanted to start skipping ahead because I just needed to know what was happening faster (I didn't though, I read it page by page like a good little bibliophile...it was a near thing though). The author was able to piece together all these stories so incredibly well.

 

Like the film I compared it to, THE CHALK ARTIST isn't filled with completely lovable characters or situations. Everything is a such an interesting mix of ups and downs...and yet it still manages to be enchanting. And that really is the pure talent of the author. It was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster but by the end, I felt happy, but most of all, hopeful. I think that was my biggest take away from this book. In the end, it's hopeful.

Review by The Literary Llama

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