Audacious literally has me pulling at my hair in frustration right now. I’ve written and rewritten this review half a dozen times, and I still can’t get my thoughts organized. There was a lot about this book that I liked, but in the end it left me feeling dissatisfied, and I’m having trouble articulating why.
The novel begins with our protagonist, Raphaelle, moving to a new town for her father’s job. Raphaelle decides to use the move to start fresh: she will no longer be the girl who shows up at a black-and-white formal in a hot-pink dress or draws pictures of a “naked and well endowed” Christ on the board at her Catholic school. Instead, she decides to reinvent herself as “Ella,” a nice, normal girl who doesn’t spit in the face of convention just to watch people squirm.
In spite of this resolution, Ella just can’t stifle her provocateur nature. When her art teacher asks her to submit a piece in the school art show, Raphaelle reemerges to create a work of art so daring it sets off a chain reaction of consequences, including criminal charges and expulsion from the school.
Amidst the fallout from the art show, Raphaelle must also navigate her relationship with her quasi-boyfriend Samir. Raphaelle is a vehement atheist, and Samir is Muslim. As you can guess, this causes all sorts of tension, which I found to be the most compelling aspect of the story.
So far, this probably sounds pretty good. At the very least, it doesn’t sound bad, right? So what’s with the hair pulling and frustration I mentioned in the beginning of this review?
The closest I can come to an explanation is that Raphaelle pisses me off. She’s too set in her ways, too focused on shocking people and putting up walls between herself and others. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for people who do or say things for no other reason than to cause an uproar. Controversy for the sake of something you believe in or are passionate about is courageous; controversy just to stir the proverbial pot is childish and stupid.
Raphaelle uses being a misfit as an excuse to keep from getting close to people, and when she does develop a relationship with someone, she refuses to give an inch in anything. There is a fine line between being true to yourself and being too proud to compromise, and Raphaelle crosses that line. I felt like she was trying to sabotage her own happiness, making stupid decisions in a sadistic effort to root all of the good out of her life. This was especially true of the ending, which I absolutely HATED. I don’t want to share any spoilers, but I will say that the ending is a large part of why I didn’t like this book as much as I could have. It was unnecessary and pointless and sums up everything I didn’t like about Raphaelle.
As frustrated as Audacious made me, though, I would still recommend it. It has interesting themes – censorship, family tragedy, faith and religion – and it would be a shame to miss out on them simply because the heroine is flawed.
There’s also the bonus that Prendergast wrote Audacious in verse. There are times when the rhymes sound a bit corny or contrived, but there are also sections that are lyrical and insightful. My favorite is a stanza that talks about Raphaelle’s infant brother, who lived for only three minutes after his birth, and the effect that the baby’s death had on the family:
Whose only task on earth
Was to break my mother’s heart.
It took him his whole life.”
I also liked this verse:
“Strong as time and
Tenacious as space but
If love is never to be tested
Or challenged then it is worth
In the end, I’m glad I read Audacious, even if it did leave me angry and dissatisfied. If you’re a fan of writers like Ellen Hopkins, and if you can accept a less-than-happy ending, Audacious might be a book for you.