Book talk: Sunni was used to her step-brother misbehaving, but this was a bit much even for her. One minute he was loudly rambling on while she and her classmate were trying to concentrate on their school project and the next he's gone. They're in an old castle room with no windows and only one way out but she didn't see him leave through the door. And what was that strange spark of light in the painting on the wall just after he disappeared? There's only one solution: as crazy as it sounds he must have disappeared through the painting. Her step-mom will kill her if she doesn't bring him back, so of course it's up to her to follow him through and find a way back out again. But the painting has many layers of mystery and she has to journey through each before she can leave. Before Sunni knows it she's being kidnapped, racing through mazes filled with beasts, and battling pirates on the sea. If she and her brother survive the mess he's gotten them into, she's going to kill him.
Rocks my socks: Flavin creates a wonderfully fantastic world inside the painting that is full of one adventure after another. Despite the dangers she keeps the world light with humor ("He looked like someone from the TV programs Dean's mom loved, where snooty men rode around on horses and women sat in mansions waiting for one to propose.") I liked the character of Sunni and her relationships with both her brother and the classmate who follows them through. Despite the fact that he's annoying sometimes she clearly loves her step-brother and protects him fearlessly saving the day multiple times. I appreciate the fact that her classmate recognizes this about her and respects it and when someone else accuses her of being a damsel in distress he thinks "Sunni was hardly a girl who expected to be rescued." Instead of feeling intimidated by this, he likes that about her.
Rocks in my socks: There is a large cast of characters and so for the supporting roles Flavin gets a bit sloppy with the characterization. The villain character is particularly poorly executed with his complete disregard for the safety of the main characters (who are after all children) never explained, except for the vague justification that he's looking for lost paintings to sell and get rich off of. The dialogue is also pretty flat and unrealistic with the characters saying exactly what they mean and getting straight to the point. ("Why should I change? I'm pretty marvelous as I am. Always was more marvelous than you, anyway. Better at drawing, more popular with girls."... btw I'm the vain villain in case you missed that) The plot moves very quickly from one adventure to the next while rearranging the combinations of various characters like they were pieces in a a kaleidoscopic. Someone is always being kidnapped or left behind or stranded on a desert isle but then immediately rescued. There was altogether too much motion too quickly for my taste.
Every book its reader: I'd give this to 3rd - 5th graders looking for a fast-paced fantasy adventure. For those who like their books heavy on the plot and light on the characterization.
The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin