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Sonderbooks Book Review of

Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough


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Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough

Review posted February 16, 2019.
Dutton Books, 2018. 304 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 16, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Morris Award Finalist
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Teen Fiction

Wow. This book is amazing.

Now, the central event of the book is a rape – so I, personally, don’t think that’s “presentation for a child audience” [though that is only my personal opinion and I haven’t discussed it with anyone else on the Newbery committee]. But by the time I figured that out, there was absolutely no way I was going to stop reading.

This is a verse novel, which usually I don’t have a lot of patience with. But this verse spoke with a compelling voice that pulled me in immediately.

We have the perspective of Artemisia Gentileschi, who was seventeen years old in 1611 in Rome. Her mother died when she was twelve. She worked for her father, an artist, grinding pigments, preparing paint – and creating paintings for him, even though they bore his name.

In that world, women were used by men. Her mother had told her stories of the ancient heroines Susanna and Judith – they stood up to men and were vindicated, though it was not easy for them. Those stories, woven through the book, are the only parts that are not written in poetry. Yet they quickly make you feel what it must have been like for those ancient women – in a way that men who have never felt powerless cannot understand.

And then a young man hired to teach Artemisia perspective rapes her. And she tells the world what he did – but the resulting trial comes at great cost to Artemisia.

The powerless woman, used by men, stands up to the powerful, like Susanna and Judith before her. Though none of them spoke up without cost.

And the amazing part is that Artemisia is an actual woman, an artist, and her trial in 1611 actually happened.

Being verse, this book is not long. But its effect is long-lasting indeed.

They tell me I know
about perspective now.
Too well.
They say I’m standing
at the start of a long road,
looking out into the distance.
What do I see?