Tera seems a highly unlikable narrator at first, but it’s part of her charm as well as a major facet of her character. We’ve all heard of the mama’s boys and daddy’s girls and Tera is a daddy’s girl if there has ever been one. When everyone else abandons her father after he’s arrested for possession of child pornography, she stands by him and sacrifices her education for his sake. She’s a brilliantly written unreliable narrator whose choices throughout the novel are understandable even as you want to scream some sense into her brain before she loses everything.
Maysonet nails the kind of gaslighting and manipulation that makes child pornographers like Tera’s father so successful and give them the ability to carry on harming children for years. He’s spent years desensitizing Tera to nudity in the name of “art” and drilling into her head that her mother–who objects to him making Tera pose naked for “reference photos” and making her draw nude pictures and models in general–is nothing but crazy. Anything her mom does after that gets dismissed because she’s “crazy” when she’s the only person with any sense. It’s especially bad at the beginning and Tera has a long, long way to go to see what he’s done to her and reclaim her art from what he’s tainted it with. One scene toward the end when she learns the depth of her father’s crimes will stick with you forever.
This is no romance if you’re looking for Tera finding comfort in Joey. As can often happens in abusive families, the abused children grow up and acquire abusive spouses. None of them do it on purpose; years of living in that situation has conditioned them in all the wrong ways. A Work of Art is about one thing and one thing only: Tera healing herself. She isn’t quite there by the last page, but she’s certainly on the way to escaping the control her father had over her for years.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Maybe Tera’s mother already tried to get through to her daughter before the events of the novel and gave up on her, but the way she never tries to sit Tera down and explain what she knows/what she found on her father’s computer seems strange. It’s believable, yes, but an acknowledgement that her mother tried to get through to her at one point in the past would have helped me understand her mother a little more. That this story is about a middle class/upper-middle class white family makes it a bit weaker too, as statistics show other groups are more vulnerable to child sexual abuse and yet get less attention. I’m always going to cheer for diversity in YA that will represent the full gamut of readers, but this is one novel where greater diversity would have made the story’s point even more powerful.
Fans of Little Peach and Living Dead Girl will love A Work of Art in the same strange ways we all love dark, painful novels. Whatever Melody Maysonet wants to write next, I’m in. She’s an author I can trust to make me hurt while I read and open my eyes a little more to the world around me.