Blood Water Paint|Joy McCullough
Blood Water Paint
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Haunting ... teems with raw emotion, and McCullough deftly captures the experience of learning to behave in a male-driven society and then breaking outside of it.--The New Yorker

I will be haunted and empowered by Artemisia Gentileschi's story for the rest of my life.--Amanda Lovelace, bestselling author of the princess saves herself in this one

A William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist
2018 National Book Award Longlist

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome's most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

Joy McCullough's bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia's heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia's most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman's timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

★A captivating and impressive.--Booklist, starred review
★Belongs on every YA shelf.--SLJ, starred review
★Haunting.--Publishers Weekly, starred review
★Luminous.--Shelf Awareness, starred review


  • ISBN-13: 9780735232112
  • ISBN-10: 0735232113
  • Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
  • Publish Date: March 2018
  • Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.9 pounds
  • Page Count: 304
  • Reading Level: Ages 15-17

Ode to a survivor

Centuries before the #MeToo movement entered the cultural landscape, there was Artemisia Gentileschi.

Born in Rome at the turn of the 17th century, Artemisia was introduced to painting by her artist father after she showed more talent than her brothers. She became a masterful Baroque artist in her own right, with paintings that reflected feminist concerns and employed an eye-opening realism during a time when art—like the entire world—was dominated by men. In her debut novel, Blood Water Paint, Joy McCullough recounts in fictionalized free verse a pivotal time in Artemisia’s life.

Set in 1610, the story begins with 17-year-old Artemisia assisting her father in his painting studio. She ponders her own talent (she paints better than her father yet receives no proper credit), her role and identity as a woman, and her sexuality. She soon realizes that women are dismissed as “beauty for consumption.” Artemisia’s most troubling observations are confirmed when her father, in the guise of procuring a high-profile commission, hires fellow artist Agostino Tassi to tutor her. Instead of guiding Artemisia, he rapes her, and although she calls out to the house servant, Tuzia, no one comes to her aid. Despite the strong possibility of being shamed as a result, the teen seeks justice in court. Adding insult to injury, the judge requires Artemisia to undergo humiliating, invasive and tortuous tests to prove she isn’t lying.

With care and precision, McCullough marks how these events shaped Artemisia’s work. Perhaps because Tuzia didn’t respond when she needed her, Artemisia’s paintings emphasize the power of solidarity among women. Her narration, interspersed with prose from the perspective of her older self, draws inspiration from the women of the Bible, such as Judith and Susanna. Most importantly, readers see the teen’s strength as a survivor of sexual assault. Ever resilient, she proclaims, “I am not a thing / to be handed / from one man / to another.”

Although Artemisia lived centuries ago, her story will resonate with modern feminists.


This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.