The Painting, by Charis Cotter, for Timeslip Tuesday

I very much enjoyed Charis Cotter's first book, The Swallow (which I helped shortlist for the Cybils Awards back in 2014), and so was very pleased indeed that her new book, The Painting (Tundra Books, middle grade, 2017) , was a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Fiction category this year and that a review copy came my way for my consideration as a Cybils panelist.  I was even more pleased to find it a time slip book, because my Timeslip Tuesday posting has been a bit spotty of late....and then, most importantly, I was pleased to be reading and enjoying it!  Though it is sad...

Little Annie was only four when she dashed across the street to see a little dog, and was hit and killed by a car.  Her big sister Claire has blamed herself ever since for not holding Annie back, and she feels their mother blames her as well, and would rather she had died instead of the vivacious and talented Annie.  When Claire's artist mother takes them to live in a Newfoundland lighthouse, the two of them pull farther apart, instead of finding peace and common ground.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, another Annie finds a painting of the lighthouse in the attic of her home, and brings it down to her bedroom.  When Annie's mother is in a bad car accident of her own, Annie  slips through time and space to visit the lighthouse, and meets Claire there.. who thinks her little sister has come back to her.  Though the painting of the lighthouse only works once as a portal, Annie finds more of the artist's paintings, which take her back on brief visits to Claire. The visits become increasingly urgent as Annie's mother, gravely injured and in a coma, worsens, and Claire and her mother's relationship moves toward a breaking point of no return.

The reader quickly guesses, and Annie just a bit later realizes, that Claire is her mother.  Seeing Claire struggling with her own difficult relationship with her mother helps Annie better understand Claire not just as another girl but as her own mother (not always warm and sympathetic).  The time slipping leads all three characters to a happy ending where the sadness of the past is soothed and healing can happen.  Though the connections between the characters are predictable, they are moving, and given a nicely magical twist by allusions to Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass.  Is Annie dreaming Claire, or Claire dreaming Annie?  Actually, neither, because Annie has a physical presence in Claire's world, though no one but Claire can actually see her.

I loved the idea of time slipping through paintings that connect two characters in different times, and it serves as an especially pleasing mechanism here (I just with I could see the paintings myself!).  Both girls are sympathetic narrators, taking turns to tell the story.  Because Claire in the past is now linked to the danger that Claire is in as an adult, there's a tension at work in the story as well.  As Claire's life in the past darkens, Claire in Annie's present worsens, and Annie (both back in time and in her own time) is the only hope of relieving the stress that is at play and that is about to snap.

So in short-- if you like atmospheric books with beautiful paintings and scenery, and plots that depend on strained relationships between sad (though sympathetic) protagonists, with a lovely magical time travel element, and a hint of ghost, do try this one. Giving Kirkus credit where credit is due, we are in agreement-- "Full of emotional truth and connection."

Musing about the book as I looked for a picture of it, I found myself wondering about the bulky socks of the girl on the cover, which made me realize that the little dog responsible for Annie's death is on the cover too.  So the girl must be Annie of the 1970s, which at first seems odd, because she's not a protagonist, but which actually works very well....


  1. I enjoyed The Swallow, too, but hadn't realized Cotter has another book out. This one sounds quite lovely!

    1. I think I have a slight preference for The Swallow, but this one is well worth reading too!

  2. Glad you enjoyed this one! I liked the exploration of mother-daughter relationships, but I also still prefer The Swallow because it was more type of plot.


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