The Gallery of Unfinished Girls, by Lauren Karcz
Published by: HarperTeen
On Sale Date: July 25, 2017
**I received this as an e-galley from HarperTeen through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (2.5 out of 5 stars)
Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile since her award-winning piece Food Poisoning #1 last year.
Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is lying comatose in faraway Puerto Rico after suffering a stroke. 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 Red Mangrove Estate.
At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she never has before. She can share her deepest secrets and feel safe. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. As her life continues to crumble around her, the Estate offers more solace than she could hope for. But 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.
When I first read the synopsis for this book, I thought I was going to find something I could really connect with. I am an artist, or at least, I thought I was, but now I’m not so sure anymore, and everything about this storyline seemed like I would understand it. But I didn’t. I understood parts of it, I understood most of the characters – their desires and behaviors, their difficulties and their struggles, and of course, most of all, I understood Mercedes’ sudden lack of inspiration for her art. But what I did not get was the magical realism element of this book, and the character most tied to it, Lilia.
The magical realism mostly exists in a specific building, known as the Estate (it had a longer name but I can’t remember it – Rosehedge or something? *Edit: Oh look it’s in the synopsis – Red Mangrove.), where artists in need are drawn to find the best of who they are, or something like that. The entire magical quality of the place never feels like it is completely explained or understandable. There is a strong need for the artists’ secrets to be kept there, but I never understood why? Or how Mercedes would just somehow know what everything that happened there meant. It was like she was making connections that I was missing somehow.
Then there is Lilia. Every other character felt real and knowable, with relatable desires and struggles that I could really feel and sympathize with. But, Lilia? She just made me angry. She would say things, tell Mercedes how things worked, and Mercedes wouldn’t question it. Or if she did finally ask a question, Lilia would completely ignore it and there would never be an answer. I was thus left feeling confused and frustrated with everything going on with Lilia and the Estate and it just ruined the overall impression of the book.
The writing itself was pretty nice and it flowed well, and the pacing moved along quickly, it was just the lack of cohesion between the magical part and the rest of the book that had me annoyed. It was like the author knew what she wanted it to be, but never fully translated it into enough words to really make it understandable.
Overall, I was kind of really disappointed in this book. It had great potential, and I really wanted to connect with Mercedes and her artistic struggles and her personal discovery of herself, but the lack of cohesion with the magical realism element just ruined it for me.