Teen Book Review: "The Painted Boy"

The Painted Boy by Charles De LintWith the holidays only a few days away, family gatherings and yearly traditions are probably on your mind. But there are times when family members can be a little…overbearing and you wish you could escape. Just ask Jay Li. He needed to get away from his grandmother so badly, he moved from Illinois to Arizona. Of course, he had his reasons. Want to find out what they are?  Then read The Painted Boy by Charles De Lint.

When Jay Li was 11, an image of a dragon appeared on his back in one painful night, marking him as a member of the Yellow Dragon Clan of animal spirits. He spent the next six years under intense training with his grandmother, herself a Yellow Dragon. But frustrated with the vague hints she gives him and wanting to rebel, he struck out on his own and ended up in a desert town in Arizona. The town is ruled by El Tigre, himself a powerful spirit, and it is overrun with gangs and drugs. Jay finds a good life working at a local Mexican restaurant with Rosalie and trying to romance rock goddess Anna, who’s keeping her distance. He also learns more about the spirit world through Rita the Snake and Lupita the Jackalope (yes, they do exist). But when gang violence tears into the lives of those he loves, Jay must decide whether or not to take down El Tigre and take over control of barrio to clean up the gangs — that is, if a dragon who knows next to nothing about his powers even has a chance.    

This story paints a vivid picture at a slow pace in between bursts of intense action. Jay’s frustration with how little he knows is palpable, especially when his new friends persuade him he may have been indoctrinated into a gang based on his experience. The rich blend of Asian and Native American mythology is great for any fantasy fan. Coupled with the vivid descriptions of a desert teeming with life, it’s hard not to get lost in this detailed world. Secondary characters are very well rounded; even people who seem like villains at first glance turn out to be flawed characters with complex motives. The only flaw of the book is that it is sometimes hard to deal with shifts in the point of view, especially between Jay’s journal entries and the normal third-person point of view. Fans of Charles De Lint will eat this book up, despite the lengthy page count.

The Painted Boy is recommended for mid- to late-teen readers.  Check it out with other titles by Charles De Lint at Northeast Library or your local branch of the DC Public Library today!

--by Brandon Digwood