Beatrix Addams, known as Bex, is a 17-year-old San Franciscan. She lives with her mother (from whom her father parted on bad terms) and her older brother Heath. Her mother is a diligent nurse. Heath is a student nurse, but has already dropped out of college several times. Despite this, he and Bex get on very well.
Bex’s ambition is to become an anatomical artist. She is trying to secure college funding. She has entered for a forthcoming competitive art show. The winning student will be given a prize of funding. Bex’s future may depend on winning the competition.
Bex’s mother tells her not to take the late night bus – the Owl – because it is frequented by drunks. Disobeying her mother, on the bus Bex meets a night owl named Jackson Vincent, a boy who commands her attention. He is dressed in black, carrying what looks to Bex like a bank robber’s black swag bag.
Meanwhile in San Francisco an unidentified street artist known as the Golden Apple is spray-painting words in gold paint on various buildings. The novel now pivots on certain key questions: will Bex win her funding, what is the truth about Jackson and what connection does he have (if any) to the mysterious spray painter?
There are a number of reasons to admire Bennett’s work. First and foremost, the central figures of Bex and Jackson ring true and leap off the page. Unusually for children’s books, Bex is a character who has a vivid interest in science. Science is all too often presented as a tedious and remote subject in young literature. There is also a character later introduced who is experiencing acute mental illness. This character’s anguish is delineated with immense accuracy and discretion – a notable feat.
This reviewer awards five stars sparingly. On this occasion they are richly merited.