The Frame-Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight. Greenwillow Books, 2018.
Here’s a book based around a real art museum, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick. It’s built around an intriguing, Hogwarts-like concept – the people in paintings can come to life, at least if the works are valued enough. Mona Dunn, the thirteen-year-old subject of the most famous painting the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is one of those paintings, and enjoys running around between the other paintings in the gallery, making friends with the other painting people and hanging out by the Italian lake in one of them. (Color plates of all the paintings described are happily included.) She’s sprightly and rebellious, so that when the son of the gallery director, twelve-year-old Sargent Singer, comes to the gallery for the first time, he catches her sticking her tongue out at some snotty visitors.
Sargent is living with his father just for the summer, but it’s the first time they’ve tried living together since his parents divorced years ago. He managed to arrive at the same time as a very cranky art restorer, and a funding crisis in the gallery, so that his father struggles to make time in his schedule for his son. The first part of the book details Sargent’s struggles with his father, a realistically bad parent who has a hard time figuring out things like kids are people with whom one can have two-way conversations, as well as the more interesting development of a friendship between Mona and Sargent. Sargent, an aspiring painter, is forced to attend art camp at the museum, where he happily makes his first living friends as well.
Just as this kind of plot felt like it was bogging down around the middle of the book, an art thief – one who knows the paintings’ secrets – makes an appearance, and the plot builds to an exciting conclusion, one that even has a solution for the problem of a living boy who wants to stay friends with a girl in a painting who will stay 13 forever.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.