Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SIMON SAYS by Elaine Marie Alphin

SIMON SAYS

By Elaine Marie Alphin

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-15-216355-7
Publisher: Harcourt

This overly long novel explores large issues about Art and Truth, but fails to create compelling characters or plot that will keep readers engaged. While Alphin’s highly readable Counterfeit Son (2000) crackled with suspense, this one sets the reader up for disappointment from the beginning. The first page describes the grave of a dead student, visited by his murderer. But there is no murder, only a suicide for which one character feels guilty. Telling rather than showing, narrator Charles explains why he transferred to an arts school as a junior. He presents himself in long, repetitive monologues as an arrogant, anguished painter, unappreciated by his parents and boorish teachers, ostracized by jealous classmates since preschool. His bleakly truthful paintings, executed without training, make everyone so uncomfortable that they reject him. Now he won’t let anyone see his paintings for fear of further rejection, conveniently overlooking the fact that he won a scholarship based on his art. At the boarding school, he forms a tentative friendship, heightened by sexual tension, with Graeme, a senior famous for having a novel published as a sophomore. Charles hopes Graeme can tell him how to survive without conforming to others’ expectations, but Graeme’s occasional journal entries reveal how few answers he has. While Charles’s self-righteous, self-absorbed character is plausible, his voice quickly becomes tedious. Some teenage artists may see themselves here, but most readers will tire of Charles long before his final epiphany about life and art. (Fiction. YA)