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Review of "The Eyes of van Gogh"

By Cathryn Clinton
Candlewick, 2007
Review by Amy Ridley on May 6th 2008
The Eyes of van Gogh

Jude and her mother move frequently. Their moves are decided by who her mother had just broken up with. Their latest move is to a town in Pennsylvania and is not based on a man. Instead it is because Jude's grandmother, who she did not know existed, has become ill. Her mother, who attracted low-life men and lacked mothering skills, has visited her mother once in the nursing home and left Jude to be her only visitor. Since she has never had a family, Jude becomes quite attached to her comatose grandmother.

Jude has always tried to fly under the radar. She did not raise her hand in class, make friends or participate in after school activities. She is called out by a student named John Mark for acting "small" which she realized she had been doing her whole life. She slowly opens up to him and another girl named Jazz. Their genuine interest in her surprises Jude. She is shocked when she realizes that they had actually become friends. Jude has also caught the eye of football star Todd. He is a shy farm boy who treats her well. Jude has also found a wonderful art teacher who encourages her painting. For the first time in her life. Jude feels like she belongs somewhere but the same insecurities that have plagued her throughout her life begin to affect her relationships. Things soon begin to fall apart and Jude begins to wonder if she might not be better off following in the footsteps of her favorite painter Vincent Van Gogh.

Jude is a sympathetic character who has been on her own emotionally most of her life. She has never had any sense of family and her one-sided conversations with her grandmother show how much she yearns for stability and tradition. Even though she is careful not to become too attached to John Mark or Jazz, she finds herself opening up to them more and more.

Her relationship with Todd starts out slowly but the more he tells her about his family and the traditions they have on their farm, the more Jude sees him as her savior. She imagines them growing old on the farm together while Todd is just trying to get a scholarship to pay his way through college. Jude's need for reassurance and stability from Todd is similar to what her mother is ultimately looking for from her string of failed relationships.

Jude's true love is painting and her art teacher realizes this. She takes an interest in Jude that nobody else has ever shown. Her encouragement allows Jude to see that she may have a future for herself that does not involve being saved by a man. Through research on Van Gogh, Jude is able to see similarities between herself in the artist that may or may not help her see what her future could be.

This book is appropriate for ages 13 and up. It contains sexual references and alcohol abuse.

© 2008 Amy Ridley

Amy Ridley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Boston University.