Details & Summary:
**Thank you to Blaze publishing, who provided me with an e-ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**
I had high expectations for this book, mainly because it features one of my favourite romance tropes (friends to lovers). Aside from the romance aspect, it also promised a “commune full of colorful characters tucked in the mountains of North Carolina”. I was excited to read it, but, unfortunately, Paintbrush didn’t deliver. While I enjoyed some aspects, they didn’t make up for one-dimensional characters and a lack of originality.
For me, the characters were the biggest issue. When writing a book with a dual POV, it’s important to develop your characters and give them a unique voice so readers immediately know which character is speaking. This wasn’t the case in Paintbrush. Josie and Mitchell, the POV characters, sound almost exactly alike. I also found that they have almost identical reactions to the events, which makes it even harder to distinguish them from one another.
Nor were they particularly interesting. Josie is the weird, quirky female character who enjoys planting tomatoes, spending time outdoors, and helping out the community. Mitchell is the golden boy every (mean) girl swoons over but who’s not interested in anyone because they’re all the same and he’s looking for someone “different”. And, surprise, surprise: Josie is the one who’s “different”.
Many people would probably say this isn’t a big deal, but, for me, it’s not okay to imply that one type of girl (or person) is “better” than the other. For example, not enjoying parties and preferring to read doesn’t make you a better person than someone who does enjoy going to a party. Unfortunately, that’s what’s implied in Paintbrush. There was a lot of judging coming from the main characters in general and I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. Especially lines like these:
“Mitchell leans over and plucks an apple out of K-girl’s hand, dangling the apple high above her head. Of course she’s eating an apple – just an apple – for lunch. She squeals and jumps for the apple, hands outstretched, bumping into Mitchell and laughing.”
Josie (and, as such, the author) is basically implying that this girl is nothing more than a dumb, skinny girl who doesn’t eat and desperately dangles herself in front of the golden boy at school.
In general, Bucchin takes the easy way out and completely skimps out on character development. As a result, Paintbrush features mostly one-dimensional and stereotypical characters: hippies, a surfer dude from California, mean girls, a sister who rebels and turns into a goth, best friends who’re overly excited all the time and serve as comic relief …
The author doesn’t give them extra layers. Basically, what you see is what you get. Interestingly enough, she seems to be aware of the stereotypes. This is what happens when someone calls Josie “quirky”.
“Quirky is such a cop-out. Like, ‘everyone else thought this girl was just a big weirdo, but then I came along and found her.’ Like you’re the first guy to ever notice her. She’s a person, not a rare species or a dinosaur bone or something. It’s not like you made some kind of discovery.”
All I’m going to say is that I wish Bucchin had kept these lines in mind while she created her other characters.
Plot-wise, Paintbrush does what you expect it to do. There are no big surprises or plot twists you don’t see coming and it’s all fairly predictable, but I didn’t mind so much. Many contemporary YA romances follow the same course, which is fine if you’re looking for an easy, quick read.
While I had a lot of issues with this book, it also has some good elements. I particularly enjoyed the setting. Bucchin does a great job at describing the scenery in such a way that you wish you could visit these places and experience it yourself. The Paintbrush community was also a highlight for me. I hadn’t read anything like it before (in my country, communities don’t exist) and I’m not sure if such a community is “common” in the US, but it was nice to read about a different way of living.
Despite its faults, I did enjoy the romance between Josie and Mitchell. Bucching got the pacing right. She didn’t drag out their romance by throwing hundreds of obstacles in their way, but she also didn’t rush it. Overall, I thought the way Mitchell and Josie transitioned from friends to lovers was fairly realistic.
“We’re a mess, aren’t we?” He grins at me.
I can’t help it—I lean into him, pressing my shoulder into his, wanting to feel his warmth and his soft sweatshirt, wanting to be a part of that smile.
I shrug. “All the best people are messy.”
Paintbrush had a lot of potential to be an original and captivating YA romance. The setting and romance are there, but, ultimately, the characters let the story down. If Bucchin had taken the time to truly develop her characters, stay away from placing judgment, and added more (racial) diversity to her story, this book could’ve been a favourite instead of a disappointment.