Charis Cotter’s The Painting Explores Mother-Daughter Relationships via Time Slip

The Painting by Charis Cotter

The Painting by Charis CotterFormat/Source: eBook/Netgalley
Published: 19 September 2017
Publisher: Tundra Books
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Middle grade time slip
Rating: ★★★½
GoodReads Indigo | IndieBound
I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Annie and her mother don’t see eye to eye. When Annie finds a painting of a lonely lighthouse in their home, she is immediately drawn to it–and her mother wishes it would stay banished in the attic. To her, art has no interest, but Annie loves drawing and painting.
When Annie’s mother slips into a coma following a car accident, strange things begin to happen to Annie. She finds herself falling into the painting and meeting Claire, a girl her own age living at the lighthouse. Claire’s mother Maisie is the artist behind the painting, and like Annie, Claire’s relationship with her mother is fraught. Annie thinks she can help them find their way back to each other, and in so doing, help mend her relationship with her own mother.

But who IS Claire? Why can Annie travel through the painting? And can Annie help her mother wake up from her coma?

Back in 2014, I was so charmed by Charis Cotter’s debut The Swallow (review here) that I nominated it for a Cybils award. Today I’m reviewing Cotter’s sophomore middle grade novel. The mention of a lonely lighthouse caught my interest. Cotter, a native of Toronto who now lives in Newfoundland, evokes crisp imagery in her descriptions of the coast and lighthouse. The atmosphere, for me, makes up for the lack of explicit ghosts.

Annie soon deduces Claire’s identity, so I don’t believe it’s a spoiler to state that Claire is Annie’s mother, some years in the past. I enjoy books that explore the familial relationships between children and adults (an enjoyment that can be traced back to my reading of Inkheart at 10 years old). The mother-daughter relationships explored in The Painting are the kind where the daughter wants one thing for herself and the mother wants something else for the daughter. Conflicts sparks as they fail to understand each other’s needs. (The Pixar film Brave also did a great job at exploring this kind of relationship.) Annie sees her relationship with Claire inverted in Claire’s relationship with her own mother Maisie – Maisie paints, Claire studies, Claire wants to attend high school in town and Maisie wants her to stay at the lighthouse. In the modern timeline, Annie finds herself clashing with Claire over Annie’s interest in art and her introverted demeanor.

A number of poignant moments are scattered throughout the story. The death of Claire’s younger sister complicates Claire and Maisie’s relationship and gives further depth to their relationship. The first person narrative of a young girl who thinks she’s to blame for her sibling’s death or who believes her mother doesn’t love her can sting to read.

If you liked the style of The Swallow, you will probably like the style of The Painting. The narrative alternates between the two girls in short segments. As with The Swallow, I found Annie and Claire’s voices to be very similar. There is less creepiness in The Painting than in The Swallow – though atmospheric, the characters drive The Painting even more so than in The Swallow.

The Bottom Line:

A touching story primarily set along Newfoundland’s atmospheric coast, Annie and Claire work together across decades to save Annie’s mother and in the process repair their own relationships with their mothers.

Further Reading:

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #4

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Read and Enjoyed: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutsie

The Abyss Surrounds UsFor Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Goodreads | While The Abyss Surrounds Us didn’t have the vivid world building that I was hoping for, I’d recommend it for the human relationships. I expected Santa Elena to be Cas’s love interest (which may have been a bit Stockholm syndrome-y), but that role goes to another female crew member. I liked how Cas’s crush develops subtly and naturally. There is also some interesting exploration of us vs. them mentalities (good guys vs bad guys, rich people vs poor people). As far as I can tell, this is not an own voices novel (please let me know if you can confirm otherwise).

Released but Not Yet Read: One Half From the East by Nadia Hashimi

One Half from the EastObayda’s family is in need of some good fortune. Her father lost one of his legs in a bomb explosion, forcing the family to move from their home city of Kabul to a small village, where life is very different and Obayda’s father almost never leaves his room. One day, Obayda’s aunt has an idea to bring the family luck—dress Obayda, the youngest of her sisters, as a boy, a bacha posh. Now Obayda is Obayd. Life in this in-between place is confusing, but once Obayda meets another bacha posh, everything changes. The two of them can explore the village on their own, climbing trees, playing sports, and more. But their transformation won’t last forever—unless the two best friends can figure out a way to make it stick and make their newfound freedoms endure.

Goodreads | My sister brought this book home from a HarperCollins event. The setting caught my eye. Not own voices – Hashimi was born and raised in America to first-generation Afghani immigrants. Her website states she was “surrounded by a large family of aunts, uncles and cousins, keeping the Afghan culture an integral part of their daily lives”.

Not Yet Released: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of NightIn the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

Goodreads | Look at the cover! Then read that description! Are you sold on this one now? 😛 This debut comes from a Black American author.

What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!

Brief Thoughts on Some Fables

During last week’s Bout of Books, I read two books that you might call fables. The Magician’s Elephant is an extended middle grade fable, while Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day puts a contemporary, speculative twist on the fable form.

  • The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
    • Rating: ★★★½
    • Goodreads | Indiebound | Chapters | Amazon 
    • Kate @ Bookish Illuminations review | NY Times review
    • My first time reading something by Kate DiCamillo
    • A cozy tale, perfect for a winter’s night with a big mug of hot chocolate. I took comfort in the slow, quiet story with its pleasant characters. 
      • I liked how the police officer Leo Matienne, down on the sidewalk, would talk to Peter up in his apartment and call him “little cuckoo bird  of the attic world” (79).
    • DiCamillo writes gentle yet evocative prose. She creates a charming setting of an Eastern European town long ago. I can’t imagine the tale in any different setting.
    • In the author description, DiCamillo shares that she “wanted, needed, longed to tell a story of love and magic”. She succeeds in this task.
    • The handful of full-page illustrations by Yoko Tanaka suit the story well.
    • One dark moment when the elephant decides she wants to die startled me.
    • This is not a tale for everyone – certainly not if you don’t like ‘novel-length fables’, as one Goodreads review describes it, but it delighted me. Admittedly, even for me this was a mood book. I tried it previously and couldn’t get into it. I’m not sure what a 10 year old would make of this story (too dull?). While not particularly exciting, and not particularly deep, you may find this a pleasant little tale.
  • Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
    • Rating: ★★★
    • Goodreads | Indiebound | Chapters | Amazon
    • From the publisher: “This collection of wry and witty, dark and perilous contemporary fables and tales is populated by people – and monsters and aliens and animals and inanimate objects – motivated by and grappling with the fears and desires that unite us all.”
    • A brief and easy read containing 40 small tales (averaging perhaps four pages), it’s hard not to recommend this even though many of the stories fell flat for me. You’ll probably find a few tales to adore and even if you don’t, reading the entire book won’t have taken much of your time.
    • The first tale – “The Book” – convinced me to sign this out from the library. It’s my favourite in the collection.
      • Other stories I really liked: “The Tunnel”, “Bigfoot”, “The Little Girl and the Balloon”, and “The Poet”
      • A few stories aren’t suited to my tastes, such as “The Man and the Moose” and “The Octopus”. I suppose I don’t like animals that fit in just as normal humans/talking animals.
    • I enjoy the atmosphere and style (dreamy, fog induced) of all the stories, if not the substance. I like the absence of names and succinct, matter-of-fact prose. I like the open ended-ness of most of the tales. I can barely tolerate open endings in long-form fiction, but I love it in short-form.  Loory’s stories are bare bones fables, containing just enough to fire your imagination. I can fill in the gaps however I like and if I can’t fill them in to my satisfaction, then I can take comfort in imagining that the author knew just what was happening in their tale even if the reader can’t figure it out. These are just the kind of stories you might expect from a collection with this title. Though they do not explicitly interconnect, their themes and moods fit well beside each other.
    • All that being said, some of the stories don’t manage to pull off what the most successful do. The sparseness doesn’t satisfy; the oddness feels a bit too weird; my imagination needs a few more tidbits to be satisfied.
    • Why three stars? I liked this collection, some stories more than others, and the writing is my style, but the tales themselves didn’t really click any deeper for me. Probably a good read if it intrigues you at all, but nothing deeply memorable for me.

Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow.
Then he met it.
Now he glows in the dark. (58)