Review: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Genre: YA Historical, Poetry
Publication: March 6th 2018 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Format: ARC (thank you, Penguin!)

A stunning debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you
what a woman can do.


Simply put, BLOOD WATER PAINT is a stunning and heartbreaking novel. I finished this in one sitting, partly because it was in free verse so the pages went by incredibly quickly, and partly because the writing and plot were so captivating.

BLOOD WATER PAINT follows Artemisia, a young artist living in 17th century Italy, who lives to paint, paints to live. In the aftermath of rape, Artemisia tries to find solace in a couple of her painting’s subjects, Susanna and Judith, who ultimately brings an inner voice of strength to her during the trial. I couldn’t stop reading this novel, as it was so well thought out and harrowing.

Written in free verse, BLOOD WATER PAINT is an emotional and poignant historical read, based upon the real Artemisia. It’s written with feminist and empowering verses, themes of grief and anger towards a completely misogynistic society. Throughout the novel, there are also portions of other stories, following the Artemisia’s Susanna and Judith in their own struggles.

Overall, Joy McCullough’s debut novel is one of my favorite books of this year and one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you’re a feminist, like poetry, and enjoy historical fiction novels based on real people, this one is definitely for you.

Thank you to Penguin for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


alice name.pngAlice is an 18 year old college student who loves the oxford comma, television shows, and the company of dogs. She finds writing in the third person odd yet enjoyable. You can find her scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, and forever organizing her shelves on Goodreads.


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Are you planning to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!


4 thoughts on “Review: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

  1. This looks like something I will definitely love. The title itself is already intriguing, and I’m in the mood for a historical novel. Thanks for the recommendation! ❤


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