Years ago I discovered the Twitter account @DystopianYA. Since I went through a long YA dystopia phase during high school, that Twitter was hilarious. It wasn’t soon after that I discovered @GuyInYourMFA, and then later the woman behind both accounts, @DanaSchwartzzz. As a big fan of all three accounts, it was a no-brainer that I would read Dana’s first published novel.
Nora Holmes is the granddaughter of a famous artist, and an artist herself. She joins an Irish art program, and as a precursor to her studies, her grandfather is sponsoring an all-expenses paid tour of Europe. She gets to have the summer of her life exploring the continent and creating new art along the way. Or, at least, that is what was supposed to happen. At the last minute, her mother decides to come with her.
As I read the first page, there were two things I knew to be true. The first is that I would love this book and its depiction of art and online community. The second is that I knew it would be hard to separate Nora’s voice from Dana’s. This book feels just as much a light-hearted parody of online community/art as much as it was an expression of Dana’s experience with both. My perspective all came from the first chapter talking about Nora’s time creating some interesting fanart.
More than anything, I loved the allusions in this book. @DystopianYA exists in this world…as a real book series Nora reads. Brilliant. As a follower of Dana’s online, I noticed many other things, including some (possibly) subtle @GuyInYourMFA references.
Inside jokes and references aside, there is plenty to love about this book; you don’t need to be familiar with Dana to enjoy the book. Nora and her mother have a tumultuous relationship. It is downright awful in some parts. Even so, no matter how much I cringed, it felt realistic. Sometimes mothers and daughters don’t have great relationships. Nora’s mother, Alice, is obnoxiously antagonistic towards Nora and her dream of being an artist. Nora, though within her right to be mad for her mother throwing a wrench in all of her Europe plans, is bratty and rude throughout–even in moments where her mother is in the right. I was mostly on Nora’s side; she is, after all, the protagonist, but occasionally I felt sorry for Alice too.
For a funny, young perspective of art, the Internet and adventure, as well as a realistic look at family and relationships, this is an excellent read. I look forward to Dana’s next book; I’m sure one will come eventually…