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By the tender age of sixteen, Mary Catherine Henry has lived through enough horror to last a lifetime. Sexual abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father, abandonment by her drug-addicted mother (who nicknamed her Mare), and several spirit-crushing years with a dysfunctional foster family convince her that life on the streets will be easier, somehow, than what she’s always known.
What keeps Mare going is the budding artist inside her, and the sleepy Southern town of Macon, Georgia, doesn’t know what hit them when colorful graffiti “bombs” begin appearing on abandoned buildings—Mare even dares to decorate a Catholic church with a highly provocative message. The young runaway signs her work CHERRY BOMB, attracts the attention of the local media, and is soon caught—but not by police.
A photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine learns of Mare while on assignment, finds her, and befriends her. So does a reporter for The Macon News and, eventually, the priest of the parish whose walls Mare defaced so angrily. Their efforts help earn her a scholarship at prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design, where she studies under legendary Abstract Expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning. It’s a wonderful mentoring relationship … until Mare and Elaine discover they have much more in common than a love of art. And that bond, which forces both women to deal with pain and anger from their repressed pasts, threatens to tear them apart.
With a mix of remarkably visual characters and an intricate, compelling plot rich with intriguing religious imagery, Mississippi author Susan Cushman has penned a powerful debut novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page. You’ll never forget Mare and Elaine, and you’ll never look at religious icons—and street graffiti—the same way.
“An impressive debut by a rising star in southern literary circles!”
—Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife
“Cushman depicts the South as it is, not the sentimental claptrap some people want it to be. No cliches to be found here, just God and art and beauty and pain—just like sitting in church.”
—Harrison Scott Key, author of The World’s Largest Man
“This is a bold, frank book, and Susan Cushman is a brave and talented writer.”
—Joshilyn Jackson, bestselling author of gods in Alabama and The Almost Sisters
“This generous first novel is a tale of family and resilience and the healing power of art. Beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived, Cherry Bomb surprises and redeems.”
—Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi
“By mixing the work of historical creatives with the risqué endeavors of a modern graffiti artist, Cushman takes a unique approach to examining the experiences of a young girl who turns to art while finding her way in life.”
—Julie Cantrell, bestselling author of Perennials
“(Cherry Bomb’s) indelible characters, especially its young graffiti artist, will take up residence inside you alongside Scout Finch and Frankie Addams.”
—Corey Mesler, author of Memphis Movie and Robert Walker
“ … powerful debut novel …”
—Southern Writers Magazine
“…a story of redemption, artistic expression and the power of forgiveness.”
—Susan O’Bryan, The Clarion Ledger
“Like Southern writers Caldwell and O’Connor before her, Cushman gives us a glimpse of the grotesque in humanity as manifest in a Georgia setting … It deserves a literary prize.”
—Niles Reddick, Southern Literary Review
“Cushman’s story is one of redemption and hope without the sappiness and unrealistic characters. Readers will enjoy how the two parallel stories are intertwined and connected at the end.”
—Audrey Beach, Mississippi Libraries