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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

coverThe Unfinished Life of Addison Stone, Adele Griffin
Soho Teen, August 2014
Reviewed from final copy

A few weeks ago, I reviewed How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. It’s not immediately obvious, but that title shares remarkable similarities with Adele Griffin’s faux-nonfiction novel, The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. Both books focus on dead teens, using multiple voices to reconstruct the story of how they died. It’s an interesting structure for the examination of a single teenager and the multitudes an individual can contain.

Without question, the most compelling element of Addison Stone is the integration of graphics with the text. Photographs of Addison (portrayed by Giza Lagarce) and her artwork are used to illustrate and support the text. When Addison’s friends, teachers, and family describe her art, it’s there for the reader to see. Through the art, we can imagine the kind of mind that could have created the piece and consider how that fits with the person described. We can witness her growth as an artist, particularly as she began to focus on portraits while continuing her “stunt” art. By showing Addison’s work, Griffin is thrusting us into Addison’s world.

Griffin also uses “primary source” documents, emails from Addison, recorded notes, and interviews. We hear her voice, we see her work, and most importantly, we see her. Putting a face to the name is crucial for verisimilitude given the nonfiction style Griffin is using. The photos seen throughout the book are mainly the typical photos that people have from their teen years: friends goofing around, candids, the kinds of photos you take when you’re young and obsessed with holding on to and preserving the present. Because Addison was a public figure, there’s also the occasional paparazzi snap, but you can look at these photos and see a real face.

Lagarce provides that face and is a crucial part of Addison Stone‘s success as a novel. I buy Addison as a character, in part, because she comes to life in the photos of Lagarce. Many of the characters describe Addison as a girl with model-looks, but the photos show that to be true. It’s a detail that demonstrates how alien she was to most of the people she knew. (It also certainly helped me accept why Addison was so unusually beautiful.) She was rare in talent and beauty to her hometown friends as well as her New York City crowd. Addison was the kind of beautiful that makes a person seem unknowable. You can see this is Lagarce’s eyes, but there’s also a warmth there, as well as pain. You can get this from Griffin’s text, but Lagarce makes those details stronger and cements them into being.

In terms of design, it’s unlike anything else published this year. But is it an example of literary excellence?

The characters, who all speak from the first person perspective, start to blend together after a while. The cadence of their voices is not terribly varied. Griffin also has a tendency to lean toward overdramatic statements that don’t ring true, even when they’re poetic. Regarding theme; mental illness, identity, and artistic expression are among the topics explored with some getting more thoughtful treatment than others. However, Griffin is so committed to presenting Addison as a real person, that the style and design lift up these weaker elements to create something worth of discussion. Reading the various perspectives and seeing the collection of photos and work samples will make the reader ponder what their legacy will be when they’re gone. That alone may make Addison Stone—a book with two stars and a spot on only one best list—a dark horse contender.*

*This text has been corrected from its original version, which mistakenly stated that Addison Stone received no stars. It is also worth noting that at Someday we don’t look at every “best” list.

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About Joy Piedmont

Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.

Comments

  1. Mary Lou White says:

    This book did not do it for me. The very things Griffin was doing that made the book unique (the photographs, the multiple voices used to create Addison and her story, the artwork) worked against it, for me. Addison was a mess, but the beautiful, healthy looking young woman who portrays her in the photographs looked like she was holding up quite well, not being undone by the onset of schizophrenia. I found it hard to believe that a 17 year old painter could have become a national pop star in a matter of months, and create so much great art while partying and bouncing in and out of relationships. There was just too much going on, and my images of Addison felt forced into shape by the visual elements of the novel rather than good writing. This book reminded me of a lesser known one that came out a few years ago called Chopsticks, which, for me, was a more effective exploration of a troubled young prodigy, using almost exclusively visuals, but in a scrapbook style.

  2. Joy Piedmont says:

    “I found it hard to believe that a 17 year old painter could have become a national pop star in a matter of months, and create so much great art while partying and bouncing in and out of relationships.”

    Good point, Mary Lou. However, this may be a case of accuracy depending on the reader’s geographical location. For me, I never questioned this aspect of the story because I was reminded of micro-celebrities in NYC (like Lady Gaga before she was nationally known, and a big deal in the club crowd). Also, because the world of fine art is so insular that I just assumed that Griffin was implying famous on that scale.

    • Mary Lou White says:

      Thanks for those comments. I once lived in NYC, doing theatre, but had no insight into the art world. It was all the teenagers lining the streets on the day of her funeral that just didn’t ring true. I wish Griffin had narrowed the focus. The ghost that haunted her felt like a thread that just dangled. And maybe I inwardly rebelled against having Addison’s face provided for me, rather than allowing me to create my own image. I did, however, like the artwork a lot.

  3. Brandi Rae says:

    I’m definitely in the minority of thoroughly disliking this book, although for a very specific issue that most readers would not even know to pick up on.

    As someone who lives and works in the Rhode Island town (which, is Peace Dale, not Peacedale) that part of the book is set in, I found a lot of her description of the area and the people who live here just plain inaccurate.

    I can understand taking some creative liberties while writing…however when a character says that “the town is full of Townies…the same kind of hicks that killed Matthew Shepard”…then it becomes a description that is not only an inaccurate portrayal of a town, but also one that is just offensive both to me, and to my teen patrons.

  4. I loved this, a lot. (I actually didn’t love the art? Maybe because I didn’t appreciate it so much.) But I loved the story: I loved that it wasn’t a new story, at all, but it was so real; I loved that we heard about it from various perspectives that contradicted each other, without a real this-is-the-correct-version definitive perspective; I loved that it wasn’t just the story of her fictional life but thematically rich in a way that made me think about real celebrity death and the way we react to that, and to death in general.

    It’s a definite dark horse, but I’ll be thrilled if it gets a medal.

  5. Anne Bennett says:

    Though not a “hater” I’m a “disliker”. This book just didn’t make sense in terms of the timeline so I couldn’t buy the whole premise of the meteoric rise to fame in such a short time. I also do not feel the varied narrators really have different voices. Not working for me.

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