Book Review: PIPER PERISH Is Art Without Heart

We’ve all dared to dream big, but how many of us actually had a shot at our dreams? Talented young artist and Warhol-aholic Piper Perish is so close to achieving her childhood dream of attending art school in New York City with her two best friends, she can practically taste it. Piper knows that her work is worthy and she can make it big in the NYC art community. But it takes a lot to live out your dreams, and Piper slowly realizes her future as a New York City artist is very precarious.

Told via Piper’s personal diary, the novel follows the protagonist from January to August, chronicling a period of change filled with a major family dilemma and dramatic friendship issues, all leading to the fateful time when Piper should be heading to New York City.

There’s one major problem with the novel: Piper.

As a millennial, I hate it when people fling around the word “entitlement.” It’s grunted like a curse whenever a person under the age of 30 questions something or fights for more and typically, it’s just a ridiculous buzz word meant to shut people up. Piper suffers from actual entitlement, the kind in which you stand for and fight for nothing and still get everything you want. Piper has talent but doesn’t display drive or a sense of personal responsibility. Despite family troubles and twisting friendship dynamics troubling her, I found myself actively rooting against her, hoping life would hand her a powerful wake up call. Instead, you get deus ex machina like you wouldn’t believe. At the end of this novel, I didn’t think that Piper had learned anything, grown as a person, or become better in the wake of her struggles. She’s fairly stagnant as a protagonist and as a narrator, she’s not just unreliable, she’s pretty elitist and spiteful. I didn’t HATE her the whole time, but I’d definitely had enough of her by the end of the novel.

With the exception of best friend Kit, teacher Mrs. Adams, and maybe Piper’s dad, none of the secondary characters are super likeable. They’re presented as continuous problems in Piper’s life, some more viciously than others, and it makes it hard to appreciate them even in the positive moments. There was definitely drama in my teen years, but the amount of drama here is ridiculous. Piper is really unfair to the people in her life. I particularly struggled with the book’s portrayal of Piper’s sister Marli, who has genuine mental issues that are ignored and used to make her look like the ultimate villain with zero redemptive qualities. You could chalk it back up to the unreliable narrator point-of-view, but the narrative technique didn’t work well here. I think any conscious 17-year-old would address the issue with more care.

One thing I loved and didn’t get enough of was the art. Piper and her friends have a really interesting passion and in the few scenes in which it is explored, it’s described beautifully. You see why art brought these friends together and how it shaped their lives. But the pursuit of art and creativity is not super prominent. Unfortunately, Piper spends most of the novel avoiding and procrastinating on her art, only to be praised for it later.

Clearly, the connection with this book just wasn’t there. We were expecting a story about growth, support systems, and the human spirit. There was some of that in there, particularly toward the end, but not nearly enough to make it either heartfelt or genuine. The story flirts with a lot of ideas: creating art, falling in love, the ups and downs of friendship, loving your family while discovering a life beyond them, among others. But the writing just doesn’t commit to bringing these ideas full circle, and I really wish it had.

I’ll end things with a theme explored in the book: Art is subjective. So if Piper’s journey sounds like something you can sink your teeth into, don’t let this review stop you. Books mean different things to different people, so maybe there’s something here for you.


Piper Perish hits shelves on February 28, 2017. You can pre-order it now via Amazon.

Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and 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. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power, even if it means giving up what she’s always known? Debut author Kayla Cagan breathes new life into fiction in this ridiculously compelling, utterly authentic work featuring interior art from Rookie magazine illustrator Maria Ines Gul. Piper will have readers asking big questions along with her. What is love? What is friendship? What is family? What is home? And who is a person when she’s missing any one of these things?

By Molly

Molly is a proud Canadian who is currently attending university in Scotland. She loves to read, write, watch films, and talk about Sarah J. Maas books. If not snuggled up with a book, Molly can usually be found tapping at the dance studio, or writing yet another essay.