Casa Azul: An Encounter with Frida Kahlo
Casa Azul, a new book in a historical fiction series aiming to bring great artists to a young audience, boldly mixes facts and “outright lies.” The author’s purpose, stated in the preface, is “to uncover the essence” of the artist’s motivation to create. The book begins as fourteen-year-old Maria and her little bother Victor leave their small town to go to Mexico City, looking for their mother from whom they have not heard in a while. In the next chapter, we meet the painter Frida Kahlo in the middle of her divorce from muralist Diego Rivera. The author also introduces a wild array of chatty secondary characters—animals and inanimate objects—that fret and humorously argue about Frida’s troubles. Carrick explains the goings-on at Casa Azul: “Aztecs believed in a shared consciousness among all beings. Through this power, people could communicate with things not human.” The plot then alternates between this fantastic house and the children’s quest for their mother.
In spite of the fascinating subject and approach, Casa Azul is disappointing. The storylines meet late and awkwardly; the ending is forced. Some parents might object to the account of the artist’s behavior: “My next conquest will be a woman,” Frida proclaims unhappily after her divorce. Carrick Hill also points out that she had “numerous scandalous affairs,” and that she was bisexual, which, while true, adds nothing to the book. More disconcerting is Frida teaching Maria the Aztec concept that good and evil must achieve a balance. Not that they do—unhappily all too often—but that they should. (Ages 12+)