Sixteen-year-old Raphaelle seems to always be saying the wrong thing and antagonizing the wrong people with the wrong attitude. She can't do anything right except draw, but she draws the wrong pictures. When her father moves the family to a small prairie city, it seems like the perfect time to start over as someone new. Raphaelle becomes Ella, and she tries to fit in at school. Ella is drawn to Samir- a Muslim boy in her class, and expresses her confused feelings in explicit art. When a classmate texts a picture of her art to a younger friend, the fallout spreads throughout Ella's life threatening to destroy her already-fragile family.
I've been on a bit of an unofficial blog hiatus. It's not that I haven't been reading, but as I'm sure you can imagine, starting a new job with an undefined and constantly evolving position has kept me pretty busy these last several months, and I simply haven't had the time or the energy to devote to keeping this up.
Today however. I read a book that several of my peers have been urging me to read, and I am so glad I did. Audacious is exactly the kind of book I'd want my teenage daughter to read (if I had one) and one that I believe teen girls will actually enjoy.
Told entirely in verse in Ella's voice, readers see a girl who embodies the word audacious. By transforming herself to Ella, Raphaelle believes that she can be someone else. Someone other than the troubling/troublesome girl that she always seemed to be. A chance to start fresh and do and say the things that will make her friends and get her liked.
Unfortunately for Ella, the new name doesn't smooth her way in her new school, and heartbreakingly, she quickly finds herself the subject of snickers and whispering. As the novel progresses, Ella observes her mother becoming skinnier and skinnier, her sister's asthma getting worse, and her father seeming to drift further away from his family.
The one area where Ella does excel is in her art class. She's an extremely gifted artist, and she uses her art to express her confused feelings about the crappy things going on in her life as well as to shock.
I love this character. She's bold, strong, and refuses to conform. While wearing mismatched shoes to school is an accidental (or maybe subconsciously deliberate) it's reflective of who Ella really is. She lives on her own terms, and is firm in her convictions. She knows exactly what kind of reaction her art project will get, but she doesn't care. In fact, it's what she wants. She wants to wake people up and elicit a response, and that she does. The response she gets is way beyond anything she expected, and the students get behind her message of freedom of expression (if not her specifically) with overwhelming support.
I also love the relationship she develops with Samir, who is in a unique position to understand being different and standing out. As a Palestinian and a Muslim, he is acutely aware of the expectations that are placed upon him, and feels the pressure from his family to conform and do what's expected. He also uses his art to make a statement, which results in trouble for him.
This is definitely a novel that offers a lot of food for thought on what makes art, censorship, self-expression and confidence, but most of all, it's about having the courage to be audacious.