Title: The Gallery of Unfinished Girls
Author: Lauren Karcz
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen (HarperCollins imprint)
Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn't been able to paint anything worthwhile in the past year. Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is in a coma. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings. Despite Mercedes's creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the abandoned Red Mangrove Estate. At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she hasn't ever before. But Mercedes can't take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. Mercedes can't live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.
The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is an exploration, a look at how far we go and the people we meet on journeys of self-discovery. It's a look at creativity, what drives us and what happens when we lose that drive, the passion and the joy and the sense of loss.
Mercedes is bright and creative, an artist to the core, but not right now. Inspiration has left her, leading to her being afraid that she'll never paint anything worthwhile again. Maybe it's because she has a lot weighing her down right now. Like how her abuela is in a coma in San Juan and the doctors aren't sure if she'll ever wake up. Like how she has no idea where she'll be going to college in the fall. Like how she's in love with her best friend Victoria but is scared to tell her, scared she'll ruin their friendship. Until her new neighbour takes her to the Estate. Until Mercedes finally feels free enough to paint.
So much of this book is about Mercedes figuring herself out, what she wants and how she sees the world. What she wants to express of herself in her art, how much of herself that she's willing to express, to show to other people. She keeps her affection secret from Victoria and it settles in her, like a hard lump in her chest, leaving her unable to express herself. It's the holding in of all these worries that blocks her, and only at the Estate, where anything is possible, does she feel free. All Mercedes has to do is take that impossibly hard first step and say out loud what she's feeling, but how can she when it's so hard, so impossible for her?
This book is honest and rough, nailing those end of high school uncertainties so well. What next? How can I tell someone the truth? What if I never paint again? What if she dies? What am I supposed to do? There's an honest vulnerability to Mercedes, her unsure feelings of the future and her hope that she can stagnate in the present. That she can be free to paint and creative and live at the Estate, even when a small part of her knows she can't. This is a book that's mysteriously magical, similar to AnnaMarie McLemore's books can be. If you're a fan of magical realism, books like McLemore's or Nova Ren Suma's, you might want to check this out.
(I downloaded an e-galley of this title from HarperCollins through Edelweiss.)