My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Length: 320 pages
Release date: 8 August 2018
Nineteen-year-old actor Arlo likes nothing more than howling across the skyline with best friend Luke from the roof of their apartment.
But when something irreparable happens and familiar black weeds start to crawl inside him, Arlo flees to the other side of the world, taking only a sketchbook full of maps.
With its steaming soup and neon lights, this new place is both comforting and isolating.
There, Arlo meets fellow traveller Mizuki. Something about her feels more like home than he’s felt in a while. But what is Mizuki searching for?
HOW FAR CAN YOU OUTRUN YOURSELF . . .
BEFORE YOU LOSE YOUR WAY BACK?
‘No such thing as just friends,’ says Mizuki. ‘Friends are more important than anything else.’
One of the many beautiful messages that Colour Me In both states and shows. By the time I was finished, I’d filled my Kindle up with highlights–this is an unfailingly quotable book.
Quotability is just one of numerous admirable qualities I expected from Colour Me In after I read and loved The Taste of Blue Light, Lydia Ruffles’s standalone debut. Her follow-up delivered on every count. As before, she writes Colour Me In with heartfelt, lyrical prose that begs to be reread; as before, she paints an intimate and empathetic portrait of mental illness; as before, she forces you to consider truths you thought you knew in a jarring new light.
These books aren’t for everyone. They’re slow-paced, character-driven and filled with reflection. Above all they’re realistic. There’s no escaping into a fantasy world with Lydia Ruffles’s novels.
I find it essential to point out that if you’d given me the above as a sales pitch, I’d have passed without much thought. Slow-paced, psychologically focused novels aren’t usually my cup of tea. Yet I adore both The Taste of Blue Light and Colour Me In: The execution is that outstanding. It doesn’t hurt that they have gorgeous covers which completely match the tone of the story. But it’s the stories themselves that make these books so powerful at the end of the day–stories by a writer who understands her protagonists’ struggles while holding them accountable for their flaws. As far as YA novels concerning mental health, I honestly don’t think I’ll read a better author anytime soon.
For the most part, if you loved The Taste of Blue Light, Colour Me In is cut from the same cloth. The Taste of Blue Light has a more disorienting atmosphere, and Colour Me In is slightly more eventful, but that’s mostly due to the differing themes they explore. Roughly speaking, trauma and amnesia in the former versus anxiety and grief in the latter.
With that in mind, there is a little improvement from the first to the second that I feel makes Colour Me In the overall stronger novel, and that’s the development of supporting characters. In particular Mizuki, whose relationship with Arlo forms the backbone of the story and turns what could have been a lonely romp through depression into a heartwarming exemplar of friendship done right. Arlo is a strong character in his own right, don’t get me wrong. But Mizuki, who is by the way a great deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, steals the show from the moment she appears and challenges Arlo to a game of rock paper scissors.
One other thing that left an impression on me was the incredible subtlety. Ruffles never writes that Arlo comes from London and visits Japan; in fact she doesn’t name a single one of the locations the characters visit. It doesn’t matter. You know without having it explicitly spelled out, and if you’re interested a quick Google search turns up the proper names for those locations. As a stylistic choice, it works wonders giving Arlo’s narration the hazy, searching feeling that characterises his state of mind.
Plus there are cheeky references to The Taste of Blue Light, some of them better hidden than others. (Don’t click if you want to spot all the easter eggs yourself.)
I’ve heaped superlatives on Colour Me In. It deserves them. If you enjoy subtle, introspection-based novels concerning mental health, pick it up. If you don’t enjoy subtle, introspection-based novels concerning mental health–pick it up and give it a try anyway.
*Thanks to Hachette Children’s Group and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*