Nina by Liz DeJesus

Nina, written by Liz DeJesus, is a lovely little tale that paints a moving story much in the same way as the main character paints her own life. Short at 157 pages, it is a great read for an evening without really forcing you to throw yourself into the book.

The book does start off slow. Kind of a surreal view of the world and rather disjointed. In one way, you could say the writer was getting used to the feel of the story, but in another you could almost say the story starts much like the painting theme that goes through the book. It starts rough, just a few colors here, highlights there. The descriptions are sparse at first, but then they start to develop as Nina develops her personality. As the reader learns more about her, and as she learns about herself, the story gets a richness of flavor. However, this does make the first forty pages or so seem a bit sluggish, mainly because of the need to establish a point of view of someone who is basically a child but fully grown. Once past that, the story is definitely more endearing as you want to see what directions she goes in, and where this strange path ends up. The little bits of magic in the story, paintings coming to life and the subtle effects are a very nice touch; a bit of fantastic to mix with the art.

I like the exploration part of the world. Stranger in a strange land type of story, where you see the world differently through someone's eyes. There are a few popular culture references that will probably fade away in a few decades, but overall the part I liked the best was that exploring of life. Food, interest, television, and art. Oh, the art part I like. The detail of the paintings, the personality of art itself. That is a wonderfully rich part of the story, popping up constantly and keeping the theme of the story going. Naturally, with the main character's origin as a painting (says on the back of the book so I don't consider that a spoiler), the story lends very well to imagining her world as a painting itself. Constantly being repainted over again. And it fits nicely with the story and keeps it together.

There is rape in the story. This means that Fluffy won't read it. Actually, the story appears to have a bit of a bias against males in general. There aren't that many good males in the story. Being that gender, it didn't really bother me because I was actually raised with a similar belief, but it could be off-putting for those who are.

On the other hand, for the main females of the story, it was nice that Liz established Andrea as a lesbian and Anna as heterosexual. I found that it is hard to write about those two opposing views; in this case, that difference also got muddied as the story goes on. By the end, it seemed like the logical direction for the characters was to avoid men entirely. Despite the Anna not being a lesbian, every relationship she has with a male is... well, doesn't seem right. And she ends up moving in a direction I didn't feel really fit with the character. All because of Nina.

There is a big decision near the end of the book. The decision and what happens fits perfectly with Nina and Andrea, but I wasn't entirely sure Anna did what she did. I decided it was Nina's attraction--everyone is attracted to her--but it almost felt like a forced plot.

Finally, one of the common threads in the story is about choice. It shows up with Elijah, a stranger to visits her in her painting, and this decision in a year's time. The back of the book talks about it:

She has one year to decide whether to join the rest of the world, beginning life anew, or to remain a painting forever.

There were three possible endings to the story. One of them was pretty obvious not going to happen by the middle of the story, which was fine. But when that final decision came out, it just kind of rushed out. There was no real question, no real trial. It was a done deal long before it got to the end and how it ended actually made me profoundly sad. Sad not for Nina, but sad for Andrea and Anna. In many ways, it was a good type of sadness. The end was like one of those paintings that you just find yourself staring at for hours, thinking about the thoughts of the artist. I kind of wish there was more struggle with that final decision, but I still thought about it long after I set it down.

This story is a lot like that. It is a painting of words. Beautiful but tragic in so many ways. The writing style is clear and easy to read, it flows past the eye nicely, but it has a slow burn in the beginning and smolders long after you set it down. Would I read it again? Yes, I think I would. Maybe not tomorrow or even next month, but there will be that point when I'm browsing through my library and I decide I want to enjoy some art again. And then, I'll relive that beautiful sadness.