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PAINT ME A MONSTER [STARRED REVIEW!] Category: Fiction
Baskin’s first novel spans 13 years in the life of an artistic girl torn between perfection and loving herself as she is.
Three-year-old Margo renames herself Rinnie after Rin Tin Tin, “the smartest, fastest, strongest dog in the world.” Rinnie’s family appears to be the perfect wealthy nuclear family of the 1950s, complete with housekeeper and cook, but life in the Gardener home—particularly Rinnie’s—is far from idyllic. Her younger brother is coddled and her older sister held up as an example, while Rinnie, the “monster,” struggles for their mother’s love and approval. After her parents divorce, her brother moves in with Dad, leaving Rinnie and her sister to stay behind to endure Mom’s abuse, often aimed at Rinnie. As Rinnie loses control, she restricts her food intake and keeps track of every bite, convincingly chronicled in her obsessive, present-tense narration. If she can be perfect, she’ll reclaim her parents’ love. The school counselor encourages 16-year-old Rinnie to trust herself to save herself, and with his help, Rinnie paints the monsters of her past to begin the journey toward a future of hope, trust and freedom. Rinnie’s voice is honest and unflinching, gradually maturing from a 3-year-old’s singsong to that of a well-spoken, intelligent teenager.
Readers will fall in love with Rinnie; Baskin has crafted a beautiful story about the complexities of family, self-respect and human connection. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Roger Rueff Author of "DIscovering the Soul of Your Story" , "Hospitality Suite", "The Big Kahuna"
“Paint Me a Monster” shows the deft hand and light touch of an artist working with words instead of materials to portray the emotional journey of a Midwestern girl dodging the detritus of a seemingly idyllic home life as its artifice is stripped away by forces beyond her control.
When we first meet the girl, Rinnie (a self-adopted nickname taken from the TV animal hero Rin Tin Tin), we view her world through the lens of innocent first-person naiveté common to very young children who take what they see at face value and give nearly everyone the benefit of the doubt. But behind that lens we sense an uncomfortable instability in that world that could easily result in its collapse. And the threat that the collapse represents to Rinnie’s innocence and emotional health creates a soft sense of foreboding.
As Rinnie grows up into her teenage years, the collapse does occur, sometimes slowly and at other times in rapid and devastating bursts. And the book chronicles not only its objective events but their effects on Rinnie and the challenges she must face to gain and maintain an inner strength and emotional stability.
The first part of the book, when Rinnie is very young, has a bit of a staccato feel -- owing largely to the author's attempt to reflect accurately Rinnie's capacity for expression at that “Dick and Jane” stage of her life -- and can be a little difficult to engage. But as Rinnie ages in the story, the text grows in fluidity and complexity and becomes wonderfully immersive. And because the story is told by means of short scenes, like a collection of meaningful photographs and mementos, the text develops a comfortable momentum that renders the book a very self-propelled read.
In the end, we are left with a character whose journey of growth has been easy to understand and sympathize with and whose final state lies neither in the realm of victory nor defeat but in some distant place where both may be viewed in the peace of resolution and hope.