Cherry Bomb: Book Review.

In Macon, Georgia, a young orphan named Mare gives voice to her childhood trauma by spray painting graffiti on public buildings and signing each piece with the tag Cherry Bomb. Having been born to a cult, on a farm called Heaven’s Gate, twelve-year-old Mare and her mother escape the scene before tragedy hits, yet there is no haven for Mare, when her mother leaves her at an orphanage and never comes back. Placed with a foster family, things turn so badly that Mare runs away and takes refuge on the streets. This is the background of the novel Cherry Bomb; the story takes off with what Mare does next.
Armed with an artistic talent she is seemingly born with, Mare feels most alive when venting her angst by defacing public property, where her graffiti becomes the stuff of legends. A famous photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine wants to discover the culprit, and soon a local newspaper reporter and a parish priest join in the search. When Mare is caught out, it is the combined force of all three that hatches a plan to set Mare on a more productive path, and Mare is helped to acquire a scholarship to Savannah’s College of Art and Design. It is here Mare meets professor, Elaine de Kooning, an abstract expressionist painter of world-wide repute with a haunted backstory. Unbeknownst to both, they share a common denominator as the pair establish a student/mentor relationship. As Mare studies her craft, she is intuitively drawn to the painting of icons, leading her to enroll in an acclaimed weekend workshop at a North Carolina monastery, where a mysterious series of events unfolds. Past and present collide in this cloistered setting, and the uncanny threads of Mare and Elaine’s common story are woven together to reveal their startling connection.
There are strong themes of perseverance and search for identity in this modern day, plausible story. It is a story for art lovers, in that the reader is led through the minutia of the art world and comes away fascinated with the art of iconography as it evolves from an edgy youth’s street graffiti. In pitch-perfect dialogue, refreshingly au courant, this unique story has tinges of religious themes as seen through the eyes of Mare, the young sceptic. Growth, accountability, and the quest for redemption artfully culminate in a satisfying ending.
There’s a lot going on in this fast paced, gripping story, but in the hands of author Susan Cushman, never once is the story of Cherry Bomb overwrought. Cushman hooks the reader from the start with the likable, streetwise Mare, and gifts us with a story of survival, in a creative book both YA and cross-over readers will love.

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