Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Graffiti Grandma by Jo Barney, Review and Guest Post of this well written thriller

Graffiti Grandma is a thriller, with a heart.  Ellie, an old lady who removes graffiti from the neighborhood’s mailboxes, meets Sarah, a homeless Goth girl on a corner and in a short time, they find themselves in the center of a police search for the killer of several homeless kids. The park nearby, a place where runaways and other transients congregate, seems a dangerous place, but the real danger lives in the forest that blankets the hills of the town. The story is told from the viewpoints of Ellie, Sarah, Matt, the cop in charge of finding the person who has left bodies in and near the park, and Jeff, whom we first meet as an abandoned five-year-old, later as a killer in pirate garb.  Each of these characters has lost a family and is out looking one. 

Until I began writing full-time, I was a counselor working with all ages of children in school settings.  I remember so many of them, their hopeful faces, their tears, their sometimes unbelievable stories.  When I decided to write Graffiti Grandma, a couple of them came to the surface and I researched what their lives might have been like if they could have told me everything. Since I’m an older woman now, I threw in a crabby old lady to see what she would do in the mix.

Besides being a good read, I intend Graffiti Grandma to reveal to my readers some of the truths about the kids panhandling on the streets of our cities.  And perhaps to open a few hearts. I’m pretty sure those kids are looking for families, too.

After graduating from Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, I spent most of the next thirty years teaching,
counseling, mothering, wifing, and of course, writing.
My work as been published in literary magazines, mainstream publications, and professional journals including Sun Magazine, Kalliope, Apple Valley Review, Perigee, Readers’ Digest, and in anthologies:  Our Turn, Our Time, VoiceCatcher, Main Street Rag, Ink-Filled Page.  Several of my short stories have won awards from Oregon Writers Colony and Willamette Writers.
I’ve written four novels, and my stories and essays reflect my observations of women’s lives and the people who inhabit them:  children , husbands, parents, friends, and strangers who happen by and change everything.

Here’s Graffiti Grandma: 

Contact Information:  Jo Barney
949 N. W. Overton Street #602
Portland, Oregon 97209


Efforts at clearing her neighborhood of tags and graffiti introduced writer Jo Barney to homeless teenagers, a Goth girl in black mascara, and a psychopath. Barney, a retired counselor who worked with troubled kids, was angry.  Midnight artists had covered the mail receptacles in her neighborhood with words, pictures, and unfathomable squiggles. She contacted the graffiti office, got product, and cleaned off all the boxes she could find, fifteen or more that first long walk.

Problem was, two weeks later, the mailboxes were again covered with paint.
Barney went out a second time. Same result. The third time, she didn’t use gloves because they melt, along with her nail polish, after ten minutes with Graffiti X.

When they found out both her age and her determination to clean up the neighborhood, the graffiti office delivered bottles of remover to her front door.  Then one day she looked out her living room window and saw that the gray-green storage box across the street was being hauled away, the very box that had inspired her crusade in the first place. On her next graffiti round, she saw that two more had disappeared. Perhaps it was the call and the letter she wrote to the post office describing the little-used containers “graffiti magnets” that had done the trick.

However, the official blue mailboxes remained, so Barney kept on spraying and wiping, but at a more leisurely pace. She had time, walking those blocks, to imagine an old lady with the same compulsion as hers, only more crabby, lonely, wearing red Keds, not Keens, a NY Yankees cap. Ellie Miller, her name would be, supplies in a shopping bag, meets Sarah, a girl who probably helped create the mess Ellie was scrubbing off. Sarah would ask, “Can I help?”

Would Ellie yell at the girl, beat her with the spray bottle, report her to the graffiti police?  No, she would take the girl in, learn her name, offer her a dinner of mac and cheese, the latest offering from the Food Bank, and both their lives would change forever.

This conclusion seemed appropriate for Barney.  After all, she had worked for years with troubled kids like Sarah, and she likes happy endings.

After Barney published the short story, “Cleaning Up,” in an anthology of women’s writing, someone suggested that with these two characters, she had the beginnings of a novel. However, her son, a Clive Cussler fan, told her she needed a little blood in this book if she wanted to sell it.

So, after writing three novels investigating women’s lives, she began the research for Graffiti Grandma. She uncovered the world of homeless kids who wander our streets, live in parks and in doorways, and the predators who prey on them. At one point, deep into the twistings of the plot, Sarah says, as she remembers her buddy Jimmy spraying his MOM /heart graffiti on a mailbox, “Maybe that’s what most of us are trying to do: find our mothers.”

Told from the viewpoints of Ellie, the old lady who hates graffiti, a motherless Goth girl, an ex-alcoholic cop raising a damaged son, and a young boy who grows up to terrorize kids like the ones holding up their cardboard signs on our sidewalks, Graffiti Grandma will make the reader laugh, cringe, put a human face on homelessness, and in the end, appreciate even more, the need we all have for family.

After May 20, Graffiti Grandma will be available in print and as an ebook on Createspace, Amazon, and Ingram, as well as at several local bookstores in Portland, Oregon, and on her website www.jobarneywrites.com. Her occasional blog reflecting her thoughts as she made her way through the labyrinth of publishing this book can be found onhttp://breakoutnovelarace.blogspot.com



My 5 Star Review

A 5 Star rating with a smiling sun. I was really impressed with this story. A quick read that draws you into the lives of homeless children, their experiences on the streets and the search for family. Their quest to be part of something real. The relationship between a mother and her son restored after all the cruelty and violence.
The author did a wonderful work creating the plot in a world that was familiar to her. I do not want to spoil the book but I am a sucker for happy endings and this book's ending was the best conclusion for this book.
The story had four main characters each with a heartfelt story that tugs at your heart. With each chapter we got to know their pasts, fears and the reasons for being at a place that caused their paths to cross. Each chapter a stepping stone for the plot as it build to a grand finale. The story line was laid down like brickwork, layer for layer as you get to know Ellie, Sarah, Jeff and Matt.
Each well defined character brought their own uniqueness to the book so that you could emphasis with them on each level. Understanding their motives, what drives them and the choices they made to become what they are at the end. The group of homeless kids tugging at your heart so that you wish to take them in and give them the love they craved. Their suffering real and written with much compassion.
A demented person who exploited their vulnerability to get his own way, his mind twisted because of his own past. His role as villain well constructed as you get to know him from a young age. Soon victims piled up as you are sucked into the story and intrigued as you learned more about them. The author did a great work, keeping your attention with riveting scenes and crafty story telling. A wonderful thriller I can recommend.

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