Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: A teen comes into his own when he exposes the truth about a hate crime…with art.
Adrian Piper is used to blending into the background. He may be a talented artist, a sci-fi geek, and gay, but at his Texas high school those traits only bring him the worst kind of attention.
In fact, the only place he feels free to express himself is at his drawing table, crafting a secret world through his own Renaissance art-inspired superhero, Graphite.
But in real life, when a shocking hate crime flips his world upside-down, Adrian must decide what kind of person he wants to be. Maybe it’s time to not be so invisible after all—no matter how dangerous the risk.
Review: To be invisible or not to be invisible is not the question; it’s what kind of invisible to be. To be the kind that ducks down, hides, isolates oneself by wearing gray clothes and sticking close to walls in order to minimize interaction with others? Or to be the kind of invisible that dons invisibility like a magic shroud, to remain hidden for the purpose of sneaking under the radar in order to do something truly spectacular?
Adrian Piper’s journey starts at the first and brings him to the second.
The tale itself is romantic and told from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old boy who begins by wanting an owner’s manual. While he doesn’t get one, per se, he gets a lot of advice from his friends Audrey (take action) and Trent (lie low). Once he realizes that neither will help him in the way that he needs help, he shucks off this advice in lieu of trusting himself and doing what he knows, deep down, will be the thing that works for him. He delves into his secret, invisible world, where he uses his art and the internet to shine light on the truth about a hate crime covered up by authorities. However, as he exposes this truth to the world, he unwittingly exposes more of himself. That is, he becomes more visible. He wears brighter clothes, meets new people, takes risks, confronts the perpetrator of assault, gets a boyfriend. He comes into himself.
While the book is lauded as one that confronts issues of homophobia, I’m not convinced. The reader joins Adrian on his journey of self-inquiry that includes the pros and cons of coming out and of finding the courage to speak up against a terrible wrong that was done. The first crime committed was specifically geared toward a highly visible, very out gay student. The God Hates Faggots rhetoric appeared in various assaults, including those with bodily harm and vandalism. It also showed up as part of a verbal attack on Adrian from his best friend’s mom. So, the problem was raised. What wasn’t raised? How to prevent these attacks from happening on a personal and systemic level. And how to combat that it happens at all. It would have been nice to have. The thing is, I’m not convinced it was within the scope of this book.
Furthermore, while Adrian physically inserted himself into a hate crime directed toward a young gay man, I suspect that he would have done the same for anyone in a similar situation. And later in the book, he does. This is not a criticism of his action. On the contrary, it speaks to his character. And against the bystander effect. We are urged to help and to do something when we see something wrong happening. Period.
The real strength of the book was its purpose: to inspire people to discover their own strengths — those things that are often hidden, those things people dislike about themselves, those things that people are made fun of for. The author’s purpose was to demonstrate how Adrian, when he did his own thing by drawing comics, he was empowered to affect the world far more than he had ever imagined. This idea is sweet and it is idealistic. However, this story was told by someone who loved puppets in high school — and he was told repeatedly that it would get him nowhere — and ended up as the Creative Director for Sesame Street. Would the message have seemed as authentic had I not known this? I’m not sure. But it was gratifying to see Adrian’s growth as an artist over time and of the amount of work required to achieve the mastery of his craft as much as it was to see him using his craft to tell a story that wasn’t otherwise acknowledged.
What you might not like/doesn’t work for you: Neither the motivation nor the consequences of the hate crime were resolved. The perpetrator is free. The victim is pressured to return to a school shared with his perpetrator. The adults of authority (the police, the principal of the school, the parents) are willfully blind to this situation. When the heart of the book is geared toward inspiring teens to identify their own superpowers, ending this book without having justice served is short-sighted.
Similarly, discussions around racism and bias were absent. Thus moving the use of stereotypes (from the dumb, abusive jock to the sassy, big black girl) and the casual mentions of racism sprinkled through out the book (i.e. driving while black) into a questionable act of armchair diversity, which is unfortunate when the book’s premise is about fighting a hate crime. I would have liked to see this considered more thoughtfully.
What you will love: The artwork is stunning and, in fact, the main reason that this book stands out. The author is the artist and is clearly passionate about his craft. And while it is difficult to see details on a certain e-reader named after paper being white, the author has graciously added more visuals on the book’s website: http://www.drawthelinenovel.com/behind-the-art/