Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers / by Deborah Heiligman. 7.5.2018

Godwin Books ISBN 9780805093381

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4

Vincent and Theo focuses on the family life of one of the world’s most famous artists: Vincent Van Gogh. In her research, author Deborah Heiligman noticed that very few works focused on the extremely important relationship Vincent had with his brother Theo, who supported him his entire life. The book starts with this relationship and the promise they make to each other as young men to support each other. Beautifully constructed like a piece of art itself, the book uses colorful descriptions and artistic terminology to invite the reader into Vincent’s world. This creative approach encourages the reader to view Vincent’s works–those which are shown in the book, as well as others available online. In addition to this, Heiligman infuses the book with a theme that all readers can relate to–the complications of family life. Vincent and Theo’s relationship is tumultuous, but steadfast, and the bond is inspiring.

The book also deals with some other difficult topics–namely, Vincent’s struggle with mental illness (most likely bipolar disorder) which leads to his being institutionalized. Because the family is a central focus of this piece, the reader is able to observe the tension this causes in his family, who cannot understand him and must support him financially. His illness also leads him to self-harm, both the cutting off of his ear and his suicide. The author suggests that these might not have been self-inflicted though there are other instances in the book where he does attempt to hurt himself while he is institutionalized. In addition, both Theo and Vincent, though children of a pastor, turn away from their faith. They also engage in immoral behavior as it is mentioned that they both frequented prostitutes. In fact, Vincent lives with a former prostitute for an extended amount of time. Despite this, the book is not overly descriptive in these sections, and the reader does see that there are negative consequences to this lifestyle, particularly in how it affects their health.

Tatyana Claytor, CLJ