Beige by Cecil Castellucci
It's hard to imagine artsy nerd rocker Cecil Castellucci blending into a crowd. However, when she first moved to Los Angeles and found herself surrounded by the city's larger than life characters, she felt completely "beige" by comparison. What would it be like, she wondered, "if you were plopped into a scene that wasn't yours," a kid immersed in the So Cal punk scene when she'd rather be reading?
Castellucci's previous books have focused on cool L.A. kids who are outsiders by choice, so a book about a character who is decidedly uncool is something of a departure. The narrator, Katy, is the product of a punk rock drummer and an 18-year-old junkie - music brought them together, but heroin tore them apart. Katy's mom turns her life around, and is in the process of working on her dissertation when the book begins. But instead of going to Peru to do research with Mom, Katy is shipped to Los Angeles for the summer to stay with her newly sober dad, Beau Ratner, aka the Rat, drummer for the famously unfamous band, Suck.
While most teenagers would leap at the chance, Katy is more of a Rory Gilmore type, a girl who defies genetics to become tidy and obedient and good. And to her, the Rat is a slob who smells like cigarettes and needs to get a real job, though of course, she's too polite to say any of this to his face. Despite her plans, however, it's just not possible to stay locked in your apartment with a pile of library books. Los Angeles beckons, and it's a weird, crazy, beautiful place if you give it a chance.
Castellucci writes characters who are not only cool, but also do cool things. Whether that's volunteering at the Egyptian Theatre or going to an all-ages show at the Armenian Cultural Center, or silk screening your own band posters, her characters are always much more than the sum of their angst. What's more, she's amazing at allowing teenagers characters to change gracefully. Nothing seems rushed or fake.
If you're feeling beige or if you just need more Fugazi in your life, check out the punk rock playlists from Cecil and her friends here. Also, she'll be reading at Skylight Books this Saturday at 5pm. I've heard her read before, and she is simply adorable. I wouldn't miss it, and you shouldn't either.