A tray of used paint bottles and a bundle of worn paintbrushes sat next to the box. Growing up, it was rare to see Amy without a brush in her hand or a smudge of paint across her face. I was always jealous of the fact that so many incredible, lifelike images flowed from her brushes, and I could barely scratch out a stick figure. (4.22)
While Amy envied Dani's good looks and confidence, Dani was really jealous of her cousin's ability to paint. Maybe because art is an excellent way to express what you're feeling? Could Dani use an outlet like that, too?
I opened the journal. On the inside cover Amy had sketched a guy with wavy hair, a five o'clock shadow, and a wickedly sexy smile. Underneath she'd scribbled "Note to self: if you get to heaven and happen to run into Charlotte Brontë let her know that this is how Mr. Rochester should look." I smiled. Only Amy would dream about meeting Charlotte Brontë in heaven just so she could discuss Mr. Rochester. (4.26)
Another book, another romantic hero. Amy seems to think she's found her dream guy from the novels she reads in the form of Jake with his gorgeous hair and sexy stubble. You can't say she doesn't have good taste.
She stood in front of Amy's painting. "Damn, that kid had talent. What a waste." She spun around. "Did you see that wall in the dining room with the corny paint-by number picture collection? Those are definitely coming down."
"Grammie painted those. You're not taking them down." After the long ride here, where we'd spent half the trip screaming at each other and the other half sulking in silence with the radio blaring, I'd had more than enough of my mom for the day.
"They are ugly."
I clutched Amy's journal against my chest. "No, that hideous looking skeleton tattoo on your forearm is ugly. Grammie's paintings are cool. Don't even think about touching them." (4.14-17)
Amy obviously got all the artistic genes in the family because Grammie's paintings aren't much to look at. Dani doesn't care, though—she loves being surrounded by her family's artwork.
My fingers traced the letters etched on the front of Amy's journal. "Heathcliff was the ultimate bad boy, but Mr. Darcy had Pemberley." With her artist's eye and colored pencils, Amy had made it look like the skillful tagging you'd see on the underpass of the freeway.
Amy lived for romance […] That horrible summer when Amy's mom died of heart failure […] I'd yank my pillow onto the floor, flop back, and listen to Amy read from a romance book. Amy's mom hadn't left her much and her collection of romance novels was worth nothing but to Amy they were priceless. (4.9-10)
And so begins Amy's obsession with romance novels. She adores every love story she comes across and wants to find her real-life version of the heroes in those stories. But do guys like that really exist? She'll find out soon.
Spring formal has everyone in a frenzy at school. I intend to stay home, bathe in a tub of chocolate frosting, and watch Pride and Prejudice for the hundred and fiftieth time, wishing that someone would look at me from across the dance floor like Mr. Darcy looks at Elizabeth. (10.7)
We're not going to argue with Amy—Mr. Darcy is pretty amazing. But is Amy holding herself back from a chance at a real relationship by comparing her ideal guy to a fictional one?
Now, standing outside the classroom, I badly wanted to give her my assessment of Mr. Dermott, her Mr. Knightly. I would tell her she knew a romantic hero when she saw one. The guy was dreamy, smart, and confident. And the fact that he'd come to her rescue that day made him close to perfect in my mind.
Further down the hall, Jake stood talking with a group of guys […]
Our gazes met and stuck there until I pulled mine away. The jury was still out on Amy's other pick for romantic hero. Dreamy, smart, and confident, yes, but his character was harder to read. (12.1-3)
Mr. Dermott fits into the romantic hero mold (or so Dani thinks), but she's not so sure about Jake. Dani wants to hate him for what he said, but she keeps finding out about his good qualities. He sounds more and more like Mr. Darcy every day.
Danielle "Dani" Spencer
Dani was staring up at me. It was obvious she was assessing how much of my confession was the truth. But it was all true. "You were her romantic hero."
I looked away. "They only exist in books."
"I think she discovered that the hard way." Her voice cracked as she spoke. (17.35-37)
Jake is kind of right here. Amy was looking for an idealized form of love that she couldn't ever find in the real world. But is that the reason she killed herself? Was it death by romance novels?
Danielle "Dani" Spencer
We stepped inside the pipe. The air inside was thick with the smell of moss. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the lack of light but once they did my mouth dropped open. The sides of the tunnel were painted with a collage of pictures. They were from Amy's brush. I would have recognized her art anywhere.
Now Jake released my hand, and I moved closer to the pictures. Familiar faces stared back at me including Grammie, Amy's mom, and Amy herself. There was a picture of two little girls feeding ducks. That was us. We used to walk down to the city park with old bread to feed the birds. In the center was a picture of Jake on his horse. "This is incredible." A whisper of my voice echoed back at me. "How did you find this?
"One day I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, and I came down to the bus to be alone. Amy walked by with a bucket of paints. She didn't know I was there. After she left, I followed the path she'd taken and found this."
I fingered the colors on the metal walls of the pipe. This was the place she'd talked about in her diary. A place where she could paint to her heart's content and no one would bother her. "It feels like someone has gone over the paint with a clear coat of varnish. Like they were trying to protect it." I glanced up at Jake. He was staring shyly at his feet.
"It was you."
"Just thought it was cool enough to preserve," he said quietly. He smiled and lifted his gaze to the paintings. "After all, she did make me look pretty awesome sitting on that horse."
I smiled. "She sure did." I walked the length of the pipe. She'd been about ten feet from covering the entire surface with art. (20.14-20)
Amy's secret painting place is pretty amazing. Again Dani really envies Amy's ability to use art to capture all the happiest moments in her life. Jake hasn't told anyone about this place until now. He's kept it a secret and even preserved Amy's paintings so that anyone who stumbles on this little hideaway can enjoy her talents.
Danielle "Dani" Spencer
I pulled the first tire up and rolled it away. Then the second. We both stared at the revealed picture. The rest of the pictures were brightly colored images of people, animals, and flowers. This picture was painted in black, white, and red. It was a mouth taking a bite from the palm of a hand. Blood sprayed from the hand.
Dani sank to her knees and looked closer at the rather disturbing picture. "Why would she draw this? It's so horrid. I never saw her draw anything like it before."
"Yeah, I've got to say that is pretty bizarre for an Amy painting."
Dani touched the edges of the paint. The strokes looked heavy and thick as if they'd been dashed off in anger. (27.57-60)
Art doesn't only help Amy hold onto happy times, it helps her express some really scary moments. Here her style is different because her mood is different, but the message is clear—something really messed up happened and Amy just had to paint about it.
His mouth covered mine, and I thought Miss Austen could have her Darcy, and Miss Brontë could have her Heathcliff. I had my Jake. (36.19)
Okay, so at the end of everything, Dani realizes that Amy was right after all: The kind of love and connections you find in books are totally real. It might be a little different than what happens on the page, but it's still pretty darn amazing.