A girl in a painting and a boy visiting the gallery she hangs in foil art thieves.
Twelve-year-old Sargent Singer—named in honor of master painter John Singer Sargent—is visiting his partly estranged, emotionally volatile father, Isaac, in New Brunswick, Canada, for the summer. Isaac runs the top-tier Beaverbrook Art Gallery, which houses works by, among others, Thomas Gainsborough, Salvador Dalí, and Sargent’s namesake. Mona Dunn, the other protagonist, is forever 13: William Orpen painted her portrait, Mona Dunn, in 1915, and since then she’s been alive inside her painting. Unbeknownst to the public, Mona and the gallery’s other painted subjects can jump from painting to painting, visiting one another and exploring the various paintings’ landscapes. Sargent and Mona’s friendship—begun when he catches her sticking out her tongue at obnoxious kids—features a poignant trip outdoors and conversation about each one’s unique melancholy. With help, they also identify nefarious deeds (forgery? art theft?) and bravely thwart criminals. MacKnight entices with art critique and technique, although, sadly, readers never see artistic genius Sargent actually paint. In a mismatch to the emotional realism, villains are stereotypes—cartoonishly fat or lower-class. Some of the mechanics of life inside the frame are clear and others vague, but the ending’s an unexpected bolt of perfect gratification. Everyone’s white except one black friend, whom another friend refers to as intimidating. Color reproductions of relevant paintings are included in an insert.
For anyone who’s wondered about the people inside the frames. (gallery map, afterword) (Fantasy/mystery. 9-12)