Pages: 266 (paperback)
Published: 2010 by Flux
Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose has been hiding a secret. Her mother, a talented artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since Aura's dad left them. Convinced that "creative" equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears.
A Blue So Dark is a contemporary tale which is both edgy and profound. Holly Schindler's writing is beautiful and atmospheric, perfectly giving voice to our fifteen year old narrator, Aura Ambrose. (What an awesome name :) The book was much shorter than my typical read (I'm a sucker for a nice tome) and therefore I was left with the feeling that the story was not fleshed out quite as much as it could have been. But this glimpse into Aura's life and that of her mother, a brilliant yet very sick schizophrenic woman, is more than worth the read.
Aura Ambrose is terrified that her entire life has revolved around creativity, around making happiness from nothing and learning to create art like her mother Grace, an art instructor and talented painter. Terrified because she believes that her creativity will one day lead her to the mental illness that is hereditary among artists in her family. Her mother has struggled with schizophrenia for years, even before Aura's father abruptly abandoned his happy hippie lifestyle with his first family and left them for a cashmere-wearing, upper class new wife. As her mother's condition worsens, Aura is forced to neglect school in order to care for her, all the while trying hard to suppress her own boundless creativity. She tries desperately to reforge her relationships with her best friend Janny, a teen mom who has her own hardships, along with her father and estranged grandmother.
Every single character in this novel, from the drunks next door to gutsy, reckless Aura and her mother, are so brilliant and manage to enthrall you with a story which admittedly doesn't progress along at a break-neck pace. The only character who didn't ring true for me was actually Aura's seldom-present love interest, a skater dude named Jeremy. There's a subplot in the novel where he basically walks up to her and says 'Hey, girl, you draw right? Paint something cool on my skateboard.' Aura mentally swooned, whilst I mentally snorted. Her grandmother Nell, by the way, is a photographer who is working on a photo autobiography and just one of the coolest literary grandmothers ever. At times the book can seem dark and a little disturbing-- you wonder how any of it can possibly end well. The good news is that the ending is actually pretty much perfect for the story-- no 'and they all lived happily ever after', but it ends on a good note. (Hope that doesn't qualify as a spoiler. Sorry, if it does.)
I don't read too many contemporaries (and indeed picked this book up at the library because the cover caught my eye and I thought it must be a mermaid novel-- yeah, ha), but A Blue So Dark is a book which beautifully portrays the happiest moments of life and the bonds of family which can never truly be severed, as successfully and matter-of-factly as it does the dark depths of depression and isolation, desperation and fear. Excellent read.
Plot: 4/5Overall Rating: 4/5