As I read the novel “The Painting” by Charis Cotter I found myself remembering summers on my grandparent’s farm in New Brunswick, the years when I was a child and young teenager.
Those were days and weeks of nothing to do — except berry picking, walks on old logging roads with our mother telling us the names of the wildflowers, swims in the deep hole, fishing for trout in the brook, hanging out in the barn as our grandfather and uncles went about their work, or sitting out of the way on the daybed behind the wood stove listening to the women talk.
But, there was also reading, endless hours of reading of all sorts, from the edifying books our mother approved of to the junk belonging to our cousins, the comic books and romance magazines and the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine — which I was amazed to discover is still being published! It was this magazine that introduced us to ghost stories. Young teenagers are the perfect audience for a good ghost story and that is why Charis Cotter’s novel, “The Painting,” is the perfect summer read for the young people in your life.
The novel opens with Claire and Annie meeting for the first time. Claire is a young teenager living in a lighthouse in Newfoundland with her artist mother. A younger sister, Annie, was killed in an accident some years earlier. As Claire and her mother continue with their lives there is much left unsaid about Annie’s death, both mother and daughter carrying the burdens of grief and guilt.
There is another Annie, about the same age as Claire, living in Toronto. She is also in some distress as her mother has recently been injured and is in hospital, in a coma. Both girls are lonely, both are distraught, until suddenly Annie is taken somehow through time and space and appears in Claire’s bedroom in the lighthouse. Annie had been looking at a painting in her own bedroom when she found herself falling into another place. The girls are surprised — especially Claire as this Annie looks so much like her own sister who died. Claire believes that this new Annie is the ghost of her sister — only grown older. Claire is delighted, Annie puzzled, but neither is afraid. They share their own concerns with each other and become fast friends. It is only Annie who can control her entry into Claire’s life, until she is pulled back to her own world without her own control.
As the novel progresses so do developments in their lives, Annie’s mother struggles to survive, and Claire’s conflicts with her own mother escalate.
It all does turn out well in the end, with health and happiness restored. I found this novel completely captivating; I could not put it down. “The Painting” has just the right amount of reality, and just the right amount of spookiness and suspense to be perfect for 11 to 13-year-old readers — and perfect for a summer’s day with nothing to do but be.
Charlotte Stein is a columnist with Metroland Media. Her column, Book Review, appears weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.