Blood Water Paint

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Blood Water Paint Book Poster Image
Teen artist fights rapist in riveting tale of 1610 Rome.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will come away with deeper understanding of 17th-century Rome, its culture, day-to-day realities, and art scene, as well as the fine points of mixing paint, using perspective, and other aspects of the artist's craft. The biblical stories of Judith and Susanna.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of courage, doing right, standing up for yourself, and finding ways to live the right life for you in a world where the deck is stacked against you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Artemisia, friendless in her own world but backed by her biblical BFFs Judith and Susanna and the memory of her mother, is not only one of her era's most talented artists, she's got courage and conviction to match, and a determination to overcome the forces that want to crush her. Judith and Susanna have few illusions about their own experiences, but bear strong witness to the importance of doing right anyway. Her long-dead mother, seen in flashback, uses stories to arm her daughter against the world she'll have to face.

Violence

Pivotal event is Artemisia's rape by an older man; in the past, a character is believed to have murdered his wife and her 13-year-old sister, whom he had previously raped. In flashbacks, Artemisia's now-dead mother tells her the biblical stories of Judith (who seduced an enemy general, got him drunk, and cut off his head, thereby saving her people) and Susanna (a virtuous woman threatened with an unjust death by the lies of her would-be rapists, who are ultimately put to death themselves when the prophet Daniel discovers the truth). And, as Judith comments, beheadings are really bloody.

Sex

Artemisia has romantic feelings for an older man, which vanish as she learns his sleazy intentions. Artemisia's artist father uses her as a model, sometimes having her pose nude. In one scene, she looks at her breasts in a mirror and handles them, in part to get a better understanding of how to paint female subjects. In another, she touches herself while thinking of a man she's attracted to. In the biblical story, Judith has sex with Holofernes as part of a plot to kill him.

Language

Artemisia describes her life choices, as stated by her father: "You'll cook / and sew / and wipe a baby's ass / or you'll do what I say / when I say to do it."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Judith gets Holofernes drunk to make him pass out so she can murder him. In 17th-century Rome, wine is part of the scenery.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Blood Water Paint, by first-time novelist Joy McCullough, is a riveting story based on a real historical incident in Rome during the 1600s, in which a teen (later a renowned artist) pressed charges against her rapist. Protagonist Artemisia Gentileschi, 17 at the time of the story, narrates her story and feelings in verse, interrupted occasionally by prose flashbacks in which Artemisia's mother, long dead, arms her against a bad world by telling her the lurid but empowering Bible stories of Judith and Susanna. The novel includes sexual and violent content, usually conveyed more by suggestion than by explicit description, but there are also strong messages of courage, self-respect, overcoming obstacles, and doing what's right.

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What's the story?

As the events of BLOOD WATER PAINT unfold in verse, it's Rome in 1610, and motherless 17-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi does a lot of disgusting work for her talentless artist father, from scraping boiled rabbit skins to exposing assorted body parts when he needs a female model. Unbeknownst to his customers, she also does most of the skilled work on his paintings. Then one day one of her father's colleagues rapes her in her own house, and she has to decide whether to keep silent or seek justice. Guiding her thoughts are the biblical heroines Judith and Susanna, whose tales are retold by Artemisia's late mother in flashback.

Is it any good?

This riveting story of 17th-century Rome spins, mostly in verse, a powerful tale of a young girl who, inspired by biblical heroines, stands up against her male abusers. In Blood Water Paint, first-time novelist Joy McCullough reveals a strong, complex, appealing character in Artemisia, whose sense of rightness won't allow her to meekly accept victimhood.

if Tuzia cannot remove the stain

     if my father cannot keep monsters from my home

         if my brothers will not come when I scream

then I will do it for

my self

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about art. When you see a painting, do you wonder about the artist and what he or she was thinking, or do you just like to look at the picture? If you look at Artemisia Gentileschi's work now, do you see more in it after having read Blood Water Paint?

  • How would you feel if something terrible happened to you and your family didn't want to help you? What would you do?

  • Have you studied the history and art of Rome? Is there a particular artist or era you like best?

Book details

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For kids who love books about history and stories with strong female heroes

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