This YA novel, inspired in part by the life of Edie Sedgwick, follows the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of Addison Stone, an 18-year-old art phenom from Rhode Island who makes a huge splash on the NYC art scene before her untimely death. The story itself is bold and fast-paced (much like Addy) if a bit far fetched at times. Set in the current day, emails, Instagram photos of characters, and pictures of actual art works are peppered throughout the narrative, giving it a surprisingly real feel.
Griffin organizes the novel as a series of interviews with those who knew Addy, and she uses photos of real people to represent them in the story. Griffin even makes herself a character in the story — the writer of a book on Addison Stone who is trying to figure out what really happened on that fateful night in July when Addy plunged to her death from the Manhattan Bridge. We know that she had had two stormy relationships while living in New York, and that she had seen both of her ex-lovers the day she died. Was it suicide? An accident? A murder?
Through interviews with her family, childhood friends, movers and shakers in the art world, those who loved her and those who didn’t, the reader gets a complicated picture of a hugely talented young woman. Her family was poor and her parents mismatched, causing Addy (named Allison but later changed) to spend a lot of time with her BFF Lucy. While those who loved her loved her deeply, they also saw her flaws. She had a dark side that led her to risky activities that were sure to draw the attention of others.
…the one thing she believed in was No Rules, Ever.
…she loved crime movies …. Where bad behavior looks cool and slick.
… she didn’t do any of that Facebook or Instagram kind of self-promotion. Because while she was perfectly happy to be talked about, she didn’t want to initiate the conversation.
As a result, some saw her as a narcissist, someone who carefully cultivated her image and used whomever she needed to get what she wanted.
Others viewed her as a genius who battled personal demons.
… she’d always seemed close to the edge, even when she was doing just fine.
Through interviews with Lucy and with Addy’s parents, we find that Addy began to hear voices and attempted suicide after her sophomore year of high school. She spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, was prescribed Zyprexa (Z), and created the best art of her life during her junior year. After winning pretty much every prestigious art prize out there for her stunning portraits (photos included) and with the support of her high school art teachers, Addy was off to NYC, where she immediately found buyers and an art dealer and a rich art-world boyfriend. She became the “it-girl” of the art scene, and in addition to her haunting portraits, she worked with some guerrilla artists to produce public pieces and perform “heists.” This is the stuff that seems far-fetched to me. This and the fact that she has two psychiatrists (how’d she pay for that?), with skype therapy sessions and in-person therapy, and these people all spilled their guts to some person writing a book about their patient who might’ve committed suicide.
OK, so I tried not to think too hard about how unrealistic all that business was because I felt like Griffin was making some great points about mental illness, how hard it is to get legal adults to take their meds, and the restrictions that some people might feel while medicated. As Lucy says,
One thing that can be true of people with Addy’s exact mental health problems is they think if they’re happy and busy and the sun is out and life is smiling on them, they why do they need this little pill?
And as Addy says,
… Z [Zyprexa] sucks. When I’m off it, I feel so free in my skin. Ropes loosen around my brain. I’m sprung…. Then the focus becomes too perfect, too clear…. I start to lose my toehold, but I’m still trying to hold on for as long as I can. I never want to ask for the ropes to be retied. So it pretty much has to be an act of capture.
This is all pertinent stuff in this day and age where we talk a lot about mental illness but don’t do much to help those in need. But I have to wonder what the takeaway from this novel would be for young adults who read it. Can they identify with Addy or is her life to far from their own reality? Is Addy a glamorous figure? A tragic one? I just don’t feel like a strong point is made with this novel in the end. If you want teens to get a glimpse in the mind of someone suffering from a mental illness, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden would be a better choice.