Diary of the Artist as a Self-Obsessed Drama Queen, or my review of Piper Perish

Piper Perish

Piper Perish

By: Kayla Cagan

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Publication Date: March 8th 2017

Format: ARC


Now is the time for fearlessness.

Who are you now?

Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends Enzo and Kit can get out of Houston and get into art school in New York City, the better. It’s been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready.

Who will you become?

But in the final months before graduation, life’s got Piper a little more breathless. Things are weird with Kit and awful with Enzo; art school is looking increasingly impossible; three different guys have each claimed a different piece of Piper’s heart; and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she strong enough—and brave enough—to seize that power, even if it means giving up what she’s always known?

Be now. Then be bow. Be now, now, now.

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Was this book yet another high-school diary, this time featuring a teen as tortured artist? Yes. Did it deal in needless melodrama, involving boyfriends, best friend spats, pre-college woes, and the required family madness? Also yes. Was Piper Perish the sort of self-styled eccentric Artist-with-a-capital-A who is too stereotypical to be real? Yes. And yet, I didn’t hate it enough to give it just one star (granted, I was close).

Let me lay this out for you. Piper is, as we have already established, a tortured artist who wears eccentric clothing to establish herself as such, dyes her hair, and tries to style herself after Andy Warhol. Every few pages there are some artistic paint smears, to indicate that she’s simultaneously painting and journaling, as well as some artwork that looks nothing like what the book says her style is. Her best friend and fellow artist is Kit, someone who exists mainly as a foil for Piper. Her other best friend is her until-recently boyfriend, Enzo, who ended things by coming out of the closet. There is a series of barely-touched-on relationship dramas. There are the supportive-but-clueless parents. And then there is the coup de grace, Piper’s sister Marli, who gets pregnant, drops out of college, and inconsiderately takes back Piper’s studio as her room.

This mass of characters follows in Piper’s wake as she struggles with being an artiste, describes appropriately trendsetting clothes, navigates the usual drama of college admissions, complains about her family, blows off her friends crises in favor of her own, attempts to find her artistic depths, deals with her crazy pregnant sister, tries to figure out how to pay for an expensive conservatory school in NYC, hooks up with guys who her friends hate, and sighs dramatically about the troubles of being an artist.

I hope you’re getting my sarcasm. This is an UNBEARABLY pretentious book, chock-full of stereotypes and melodrama. As much as I was fascinated by the unfolding whirlwind of ridiculousness, there wasn’t a single page of this that wasn’t annoying.

Part of this is because I can’t stand the artist-as-tortured-soul stereotype. Yes, there were some really weird artists out there who cashed in on their weirdness. There were some genuine eccentrics. But Piper felt like she was trying so, so hard to be one of them. She was dressing in funny outfits and drawing things on her face in eyeliner and using her troubled, pregnant sister as inspiration. And for all of her posturing, it seemed that there was very little reference to actual art, except when she said things like ‘everything is horrible, brb painting’ or ‘oh no I am horribly procrastinating on my senior exhibition, woe is me’.

And this is another thing. In many of these high-school-diary-dramas, friends/family at key points interject ‘you’re making [major issue in person’s life] all about YOU’, and then the MC gasps in horror and storms off. Well, in Piper’s case everything WAS genuinely about her. Her boyfriend coming out of the closet despite his unsupportive parents and a cheating first boyfriend was ‘how could he have betrayed me I guess I love him anyways as a friend so let’s just kiss when we get too drunk’. Her best friend failing to get into college and having a crisis of identity because of it was ‘oh well, I got in, guess we’re not going to New York together see you sometime no wait come back and listen to me’. Her eight-months-pregnant sister getting pinned in her car in a collapsed garage was ‘MY ART is DESTROYED my life is ruined I can never do anything ever again’.

I can understand some of the problems Piper faces. That last semester of high school is an actual storm of chaos and friend issues. I sympathized with her in dealing with a deeply disturbed and mentally unbalanced sister and a family in denial. I winced when she realized she wasn’t going to be able to have enough money for college. But there was a new issue every twenty pages, accompanied by heightened melodrama, selfish behavior from Piper, and a new proclamation of ‘ALL IS RUINED–RUINED I TELL YOU’. And then either the matter was dropped or some miraculous event averted the looming chaos.

And the whole artist thing was…sigh. I know it’s a common stereotype that tends to invoke actual examples, both historical and in your high school drama club. But in my experience, it’s only selectively true. The artistes posture, the actual artists just do their thing, whether it be strange or totally normal, and they don’t give two shits about how they appear. Saying that you have to dress funny and do weird things to your makeup in order to establish your worth as an artist is stupid. If you feel compelled to dress funny and also make art, then you do you. Otherwise, just make art.

There’s another major issue I have with the book, and that is Piper’s ‘New York or die trying’ attitude. As much as I don’t want to stomp on the dreams of aspiring teenagers, I don’t know whether this is actually the thing to demonstrate as a good career choice to aspiring artists. I’m speaking as a friend to someone who made it to an expensive artist conservatory in New York, amassed a boatload of debt while there, and came back to North Carolina sans anything to show for it. I also hated it when she was blaming her parents for not saving up enough money for her to go to this super expensive conservatory, and decided to go to NY anyways. I feel old, but I genuinely agree with Piper’s parents when they counsel her not to go charging off to New York with the small cache of money she made waitressing over the summer–not that she listens, of course. 

If there’s anything positive to say about this book, it was that it was at least entertaining, albeit in the same way that people find natural disasters and car accidents compelling. Go ahead, say I don’t understand the artistic spirit this book embodies, but I just didn’t like it.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us. An advanced copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

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