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Book Review: Original Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

Thanks to Penguin generously donating some ARCs for Kirstin’s recent visit to my library, I have two extra to raffle off. You can enter via the Rafflecopter, by (re)tweeting this review, or by following me on Twitter (@CiteSomething). Contest runs 4/19 to 4/21. US entries only, please. 

Publisher’s description

original fakeIn this Banksy-inspired illustrated novel, an escalating sibling rivalry train wrecks and vengeance is a street-art act of war.

Introvert Frankie Neumann hates his life, and understandably so. He’s got a weird, tutu-wearing sister, Lou, and even weirder parents, Bridget and Brett—Frank Sinatra and Dr. Frank-N-Furter impersonators, respectively. And, he’s just the guy who makes pizza at Pizza Vendetta. Though he has secret artistic aspirations of his own, his over-the-top family makes him want to stay in the background. But Frankie’s life is about to change—becoming way more interesting, even a little dangerous, but definitely cool.

After his shift at the pizzeria one night, Frankie meets David and Rory, cousins and errand runners for the mysterious Uncle Epic, a legendary anonymous street artist and Frankie’s absolute idol. Little could Frankie dream that his new adventures with Uncle Epic would lead to the perfect opportunity to strike back at his insufferable sister for a lifetime of torture. But things go haywire quicker than you can say “street art kicks righteous ass,” and the lines are suddenly blurred between art and Frankie’s real life.


Amanda’s thoughts

In summer 2014, Kirstin came to my library to do an author talk. She mentioned that she was working on this book and I was instantly intrigued. Then, in summer 2015, we did a cover reveal for this book right here at TLT. Getting a peek at the art made me even more intrigued. I always like everything Kirstin does and this book was no exception. ORIGINAL FAKE is smart, weird, funny, and, well, original.


Introvert Frankie feels like he doesn’t fit in with his family. His mother is a Frank Sinatra impersonator and his father is a fill-in Frank-N-Furter at Rocky Horror shows. Their singing-dancing-acting genes got passed along to Frankie’s younger sister, Lou, who hangs with the drama kids and appears to be everything their parents could have ever wanted. In fact, when she was a baby, Frankie overheard his parents saying that the constellation of freckles in the shape of an F mean Lou’s the real deal—they should’ve saved the name Frankie for her. Frankie’s resentment of Lou’s status as favorite child has been brewing for years. In fact, he’d like to “push her off a cliff into the ocean.” Because of her, he hasn’t shown anyone his own art for a long time. Frankie, who sees himself as just average, works on his art in secret in a mostly forgotten room of their large house.


Frankie’s hero is Uncle Epic, a street artist from the Minneapolis area. He can’t believe the wild twists and turns his life takes on when he’s swept up in Uncle Epic’s world when he’s befriended by cousins Rory and David, whose actual uncle is Uncle Epic. “Cool stuff never happens to me,” Frankie thinks. Before long he’s part of Epic’s street team, helping prepare and install art pieces all around the city. That’s pretty cool, and just as cool is the fact that Frankie finally feels like he has friends. Rory is the prettiest girl in Frankie’s grade, with a reputation for using boys then breaking their hearts—naturally he has a crush on her. David is a skirt-wearing gay kid with a quick sense of humor and a creative streak a mile wide. Frankie’s experience with Epic’s art projects combine with his resentment of Lou to fuel his own public art projects—ones whose purpose is both humor and revenge—which end up giving him more attention than he could have expected. Suddenly, Frankie’s helping Rory yarn bomb, helping Epic with his art, drawing attention (under a pseudonym) for his own weird public art, and trying to stay off the police’s radar. Though he keeps landing in hot water with his parents, as he sneaks out night after night, it’s all worth it to Frankie, who finally feels like he has something that’s his.


I absolutely adored this book. As a character-driven reader, I was delighted by how fantastic and unique Frankie, David, Lou, their parents, and really everyone was. There is a lot to talk about here about art, gender, and families. And let’s talk about the illustrations for a minute. If you check out the cover reveal post we did, you can peek at more of the art than just what you see on the cover. Using oranges, black, and white, Johnson’s illustrations greatly add to the story and at times take over the telling of the story. It would have been a shame to have this brilliant book all about art not have illustrations showing us that art. Frankie, Lou, and David’s adventures really come to life thanks to the combined skills of the writer and the illustrator. ORIGINAL FAKE stands out in every way—great characters, great writing, great art. Give this to art-loving, oddball, slightly subversive readers who appreciate a good caper. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780399173264

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 04/19/2016

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