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Jo Barney

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Graffiti Grandma
by Jo Barney   

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Books by Jo Barney
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Publisher:  Encore Press ISBN-10:  0615726458 Type: 


Copyright:  January, 2012 ISBN-13:  978061572658

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Jo Barney

An old woman, a street kid in punk clothes, an increasingly insane serial killer, and some of the transients who visit the local park all seek lost families in this thriller.

Ellie, a crabby old woman cleaning off graffiti from her local mailboxes, meets Sarah, a mascara-ed Goth girl, and ends up not only swinging a bat at a serial killer but saving the lives of both Sarah and a long-lost son. Graffiti Grandma is a thriller, but it is also a testament to the importance of family, even for Starkey, a psychopath who yearns for children to call his own, although fatherhood means killing a few of them. The setting is a town like Portland, whose forests provide havens for street kids and the homeless, whose mailboxes bloom with midnight messages.


Four characters, Ellie, Sarah, and Starkey and a cop named Matt, an ex-alcoholic whose autistic son has taught him what being a father means, are brought together by the murders of three homeless people in a neighborhood park. Their individual stories lead to a hidden camp in the forest and a sacrificial ritual rising out of Starkey’s raving imagination. Sarah, his one victim who is still alive, lies in a hospital bed wondering if she’s become an orphan again. Ellie, her butcher knife, and a cluster of five scared runaways take on Starkey, a fight that brings both Ellie and Sarah the families they’ve been yearning for --and if they are lucky, a chance for the kids to find theirs also.


Graffiti Grandma is a 68,000-word mystery/thriller which examines human relationships and how they develop, for better or for worse.  It will appeal to readers who are open to the idea that love might be very dangerous sometimes but it’s worth the risk.

October 2009

We both were shivering a little in the gray morning air as we headed towards the first mailbox, me, in my black skirt and boots, Ellie in her old lady sweatshirt and red sneakers. I carried her supplies and towels stuffed in an old garbage bag like usual, and I could tell she was still mad at me, at my knowing how the graffiti got on the mailboxes. I was thinking about that, too, but she didn’t know the whole story, not then.
“Spray!” Ellie ordered and I stopped remembering and pointed the bottle at the box in front of me. We scrubbed, Ellie not talking to me yet. After a couple of minutes, the black polish on my nails began to melt like the paint scrawls we were working on. Ellie muttered “Good,” when she saw me rubbing at them.
As soon as the blue metal was as clean as Graffiti-X could get it, we headed towards the next mailbox. By the time we got to the street with the big trees, I was getting hot and glad for what little shade was left, the limbs above me almost bare. Orange and brown leaves crunched under my feet.
Rich people lived in these apartments. I could tell by the doors, polished brass knobs, and the pots of flowers beside them. They probably sat on their upstairs terraces and felt like they were living in the arms of the trees. I was imagining eating breakfast four stories up and feeding a squirrel a piece of pancake when I stumbled and heard the heel of my boot snap. Shit, my only shoes was my first thought. I picked up the broken piece and had to walk like a cripple, one leg short, one long.
“Take ‘em off!” Ellie said, shaking her gray head at me. “Stupid to wear boots like that; you look like a baby hooker.” She took the bag of supplies from me and I leaned against a tree and bent down and yanked. The cold from the sidewalk seeped through the leaves and into my toes. Ellie’s disgusted frown told me not to complain, so I shoved the boots into the bag. Maybe I could get the heel fixed somewhere.
She marched ahead, not waiting up for me, calling over her shoulder, “We’ll finish up with the next box. When we get back you can borrow a pair of my old sneakers.”
I watched where I was going, hoping I wouldn’t step on dog poop or something yucky hidden under the leaves. That’s when I saw the white basketball shoe sticking up from a pile of leaves at the curb. Someone must have lost it. Except that the shoe also had a sock in it. And in the sock, a leg.
I grabbed Ellie’s arm and pointed. She looked back, made a sound like she was choking, whispered ”Oh no,” and shut her eyes.
Without thinking, I made my way to the gutter and pushed sticks and leaves away from the rest of the leg. Familiar, worn denim jeans appeared. Then I recognized a plaid patch on a thigh and a hand with a small ink tattoo of a smiley face at the wrist. I was bawling by the time I uncovered his head, brushed bits of dirt from his eyes, understood that he was dead. Peter.
Ellie came close and leaned over me, her words sharp as broken glass. “Leave him! Not our business.” She pulled me upright and, sobbing, I shoved at her against the trunk of a tree. “It’s trouble!” She reached for me again. “Nothing good ever comes from a dead body.”
She dragged me away from Peter through a tear-blurred trail of leaves. “I’ll call 911,” she said. “When we get home. Anonymous.”

And she did and now I’m lying here half alive in this hospital bed, wires and tubes beeping and bubbling, hoping she’s not dead somewhere.

Professional Reviews

Graffiti Grandma Review
Family, in all its weird and wonderful forms, is the surprising theme of Graffiti Grandma, a tension-filled look into the life of a lonely elder and the violent world of homeless kids. Set in the Pacific Northwest and written with great skill and understanding of both worlds, the story grabs the reader’s attention from the opening scene and never lets go long enough to allow a breath until the last complication is resolved. A family of teenagers living in a wilderness forest at the edge of the city, their leader calling himself their father, an old woman cleaning off graffiti in solitude until a mascaraed, black-haired runaway joins her, and a cop trying to solve the murders of three transients while dealing with his own handicapped son: all seek the families they have lost or never had. After a satisfying number of plot twists and turns, the killer prepares for a ghastly ceremony that will satisfy his need for revenge against his family, against all families that have mistreated their children. In the end, the power of family is reaffirmed.
- Review by Peggy Bird, author of Running Scores

You Know a Book has Made an Impact. .
You know a book has made an impact when ...... you walk outside and look differently at the homeless young people around you. This touching story centered around an older woman, who's not too far from homelessness herself, and a troubled young woman. Their relationship, and many of those whom they touch, created a most unusual novel, but one which had a real ring of authenticity to it. I enjoyed reading this well-written book and look forward to more from Jo Barney.

Eye Opening Look
This book presents an unvarnished look at the life of homeless youth. At times violent, their stories present some of the reasons these kids leave home. The story is presented through the eyes of several unforgettable characters, all of whom are looking for some sort of family. I enjoyed how the characters were interwoven -- how their lives intersected. A moving and engaging book worth readin

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