Review: The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz 
Release Date: July 25, 2017  
Publisher: Berkley 
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary 
Source: Library 
A beautiful and evocative look at identity and creativity, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a stunning debut in magical realism. Perfect for fans of The Walls Around Us and Bone Gap.

Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile in the past year.

Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is in a coma. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.

Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.

At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she hasn’t ever before. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.

I'll admit it: I added this book to my TBR simply because of the flamingos (Note to publishers: if you put a flamingo on a book, there's a 99.99% I will buy/read it because my love for flamingos is just that strong). 

Thankfully, Lauren Karcz's The Gallery of the Unfinished Girls contains so much more than just a pretty cover! Lush, introspective, and a tad bit eccentric, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls chronicles the eventful, life changing year of the Moreno sisters.  

The Gallery of the Unfinished Girls begins just as the Moreno family is falling apart. Mercedes’s abuela has sunken into a coma she may never come out of, and because of that, Mercedes's mom has left the country to go take care of her. Alas, Mercedes and her younger sister Angela find themselves left alone to fend for themselves. Some teenagers would go wild from the sudden burst of freedom; however, Mercedes and Angela go about their lives as normal. Wake up, school, home, sleep, repeat. But everything changes the moment a piano and a new secretive neighbor named Lillia suddenly (and maybe even a bit magically) appear. Suddenly, Angela looses herself in the music, Lillia becomes a mentor to Angela as well as Mercedes, and Mercedes has the sudden urge to paint something worthwhile, something that will make herself (and maybe even Lillia) proud. But Lillia is hiding secrets, and Mercedes thinks most of them revolve around the mystical Red Mangrove Estate, the place for artists to loose themselves in their work....

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is incredibly character driven. Sometimes that works for me and sometimes it doesn't, but thankfully in this case it worked quite well. 

The characters in The Gallery of Unfinished Girls felt so real, so life like.

Mercedes, the main character, became the one closet to my heart. I've never been an artist (Fun fact: I was actually told in high school to never take another art class besides the required once because my work was just that terrible) ; however, I've always been interested in what drives an artist to create their work...what makes them tick, what makes them passionate, driven....and within Mercedes this was displayed front and center. As the book begins, Mercedes is in a rut: she hasn't created a worthwhile piece, something to be proud of, since her award-winning food poisoning inspired painting the previous year. She's lost. Her art has always been her "thing," the one thing that always has made sense, the thing by which she defines herself as. Who is Mercedes without the art? Throughout the novel, Mercedes slowly gets her grove back thanks to Lillia and learns a lot about herself in the process. This transformation was incredibly worthwhile to see, and I especially appreciated the growth she obtained. 

In addition to art problem, Mercedes has also found herself in another situation: an unrequited love situation. Mercedes is bisexual and head-over-heels in love with her best friend Victoria. The only problem? She doesn't know if Victoria would ever return her feelings. I'll be honest here: I never could see the appeal in Victoria. I didn't think she was that great of a friend, and honestly, she was selfish at times, especially towards the end. So at times it was hard to root for a Victoria-Mercedes pairing, but it was never hard to root for Mercedes falling in love, because I wanted Mercedes to be happy, and I was so incredibly proud of her for being true to herself. 

I also appreciated the family dynamic that The Gallery of Unfinished Girls offered. The bond between Mercedes and Angela was at times messy and fragile, but in the long run, those two girls would go to the end of the Earth for each other. It was especially interesting to see them bond and root each other on regarding their own form of art - Mercedes with her paintings and Angela with her music. It was also worthwhile to see Mercedes deal with the risk of loosing someone who close to her. Throughout the novel, she questions those kind of questions that everyone wonders - could she have done more for her abuela? did she say everything she needed to say? It broke my heart, but I thought Lauren did such an amazing job of giving Mercedes's grief a voice. 

Last but not least I want to hit upon Red Mangrove Estate. It gave the book a fantasy approach in some ways. I don't want to say too much about it, because it's one of those things you need to experience for yourself. However, I will say it was an interesting plot device. At first, it caused a lot of confusion for me and I didn't always like it. I wondered what the point really was of it, but as the novel progressed, it became clear. I have to say Lauren did such a smart, innovative thing here - I loved the overall message it was able to convoy. 

In all, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a beautiful, introspective novel about life, loss, love, and moving on. I'll be in upfront in saying this book won't be for everyone, especially those who prefer action packed books over character driven ones, but for those of you who like a unique novel, I highly suggest it. I look forward to Lauren's future novels. 

4 stars!! 

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