Blood Water Paint, by Joy McCullough, (March 2018, Dutton Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735232112
Recommended for readers 13+
It’s an historical fiction type of review day. Blood Water Paint is a stunning story based on true events, told in quiet, powerful verse.
Artemisia Gentileschi is the 17-year-old daughter of Renaissance artist Orazio Gentileschi, but her talents far outweigh his. At the mercy of her cruel father, Artemesia is her father’s assistant, model, and – all too often – the chief artist on the paintings he signs his name to. Her father hires artist Agostino Tassi to work with Artemisia and refine her talents, and she is at first thrilled to have someone recognize her work on its own merit. But when Agostino rapes her, she refuses to play the passive any longer, and brings him to court to keep her honor and reputation intact. As she goes through the grueling judicial process, she remembers the stories of strong women, told to her by her deceased mother, and draws on their strength.
This is feminist historical fiction at its finest. Through Artemisia, we see that women have always had to push back against male society. The very women she paints tell the story: Susanna and her Elders depicts a woman leered at by a group of “respectable” elders; the Biblical heroine Judith, who took matters into her own hands when her husband was murdered by foreign invaders. Artemisia’s relationship with her father is complex: he’s jealous of her talent and berates her, even humiliates her, but when she tells him about her rape and intent to bring Agostino to court, he stands by her – even though he knows, and tells her, that Agostino will not be the one on trial. It will be Artemisia. Sound familiar? Sound like it could be taken from the news this week? Not much has changed.
Artemisia persists, and in that persistence, she empowers every person to pick up this book. She persists in her artwork, and she persists in bringing her attacker to justice. It may not be a justice that suits the crime – sound familiar? – but she accomplishes what most women of the time would never be able to. And this is a true story: Bustle has a brilliant article on the real-life Artemisia, and how author Joy McCullough discovered her thanks to Margaret Atwood.
This book is captivating; a powerful combination of verse and prose that will spark readers’ emotions and start discussions. Blood Water Paint examines issues that are all too relevant today – the perception of women and believing abused women who come forward – and is ultimately an empowering story of a young woman who takes her power back. Put this on your shelves and make sure your teens know about it.
Blood Water Paint has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, Shelf Awareness, and Publisher’s Weekly.