In this YA fiction offering, a gaggle of misfit teenagers colorfully merges art and determination with a young go-getter at the helm.
Teenager Kayla Carmichael, from Daytona Beach, Florida, is the unique “artsy girl” in this cute, sunny debut from Pack, a public school educator. Kayla, a focused, boyfriendless sophomore at Sandpaper Public High works part time in a crappy tourist gift shop for a tyrannical boss and hopes to be an artist. While she loves photography, art, and texture, sounds (made by people and objects) cause her to see unique ribbons of color—courtesy of a rare neurological phenomenon called synesthesia. Recognizing her talent and leadership potential, art teacher Ms. Sullivan enlists Kayla to spearhead a collective painting of a mural depicting the school as a sandcastle. The rub: the painting group consists of at-risk, uninspired, wisecracking “special sophomores,” including Zach, a long-haired, “royal purple”–voiced drummer in the heavy metal band “Maximum Whack,” for whom Kayla develops an immediate crush. While opening chapters successfully establish protagonist Kayla and her love interest, Pack’s story really takes shape in the second half. The rock group commissions her to fashion a logo for them, but Kayla’s more interested in her random dates with Zach, which take place in hilariously described local haunts—the Bottomless Pit (“a literal pit literally full of literal mud”) and a row of quirky art galleries. Amid the demands of producing the school mural, fighting with her boss at the gift shop over rights to a T-shirt design she created, and keeping Zach romantically interested (she eventually admits to loathing his music), Kayla’s artistic honesty is challenged: a photograph of a student tennis pro that she doctored on her computer is entered into a contest and wins $1,000. Pack—who has a knack for accurately depicting teenage life with its angst and insecurities, desires and trepidations—ably knits together all the plot threads.
A fun, G-rated, feel-good launch to a series sure to please teen audiences and those who appreciate the winning combination of art and good intentions.