Teen reviewer Maris is off to college, but she’s still reading..and reviewing: (Go Bears! Have a great year, Maris!)
This review comes to you from my dorm at UC Berkeley. Welcome Week was fun and crazy and before the big move, I managed to squeeze in some reading time: Charles de Lint’s YA novel, The Painted Boy (Viking 2010).
Charles de Lint has always been one of my favorite writers and The Painted Boy doesn’t disappoint. Whether he’s writing for teens or adults, de Lint knows how to craft an excellent story. James Li is the main protagonist of this novel and has a strange secret—he is part of the Yellow Dragon Clan. When James turns eleven, the markings of a dragon tattoo begin to appear on his back. He start to realize that he has a literal dragon living inside of him, a dragon that he doesn’t know how to control. His grandmother, Paupau, shares his situation and begins to train him. The story begins when she sends him off into the world with no more advice than “to go someplace that feels right”.
James ends up in Santo del Vado Viejo, an Arizona town plagued by the gangs that roam the streets. As he gets to know the community, he finds himself drawn to the desert surroundings and the people that live there. Though he is not confident in his own abilities, he finds himself wanting to change the violence and poverty that are commonplace in the area. James has to decide if he is ready to embrace the dragon within him.
This book was incredible and I would definitely recommend it. De Lint is amazing at mixing reality with fantasy. I love the way that he combines genres to make the magical seem normal. De Lint is also great at describing the Arizona desert and the small town. He writes with confidence and every character is complex and interesting. Also, the switches between third and first person didn’t distract from the story at all. I was completely drawn in. The gang violence is harsh at times, but it wouldn’t be genuine otherwise.
If you have any time, give this book a try! Fans of Holly Black and Neil Gaiman will especially love this. De Lint creates a story that is extraordinarily compelling. I couldn’t put it down. I believe that this story would be appropriate for advanced readers in middle school and up. Be aware, however, that there is graphic violence and profanity.
Happy end of summer to those who haven’t gone back to school yet. Check out The Painted Boy for your last summer read. You won’t be disappointed. As for me, It’s off to class now. In Paupau’s words, my new life as a Cal Bear, is definitely “someplace that feels right.”