Book review: ‘The Frame-Up’ hooks readers with captivating characters and a thrilling mystery

Image from

“The Frame-Up” by Wendy McLeod MacKnight features Mona Dunn, the girl trapped in a painting, and Sargent Singer, the boy who paints to escape. Though they come from different worlds and different times, their strong bond forms quickly in one thrilling summer.

Mona Dunn is forever thirteen, trapped in the Beaverbrook art gallery where her portrait is hung. Though she has close friends amongst the other inhabitants of the gallery, she longs to see the outside world once more. Her father’s paintings are on loan for the summer, and thus it’s up to her Uncle Max (Lord Beaverbrook) to watch after her and the gallery. However, as the summer progresses, it seems Max has less-than-friendly motives. It’s up to Mona to get to the bottom of all the suspicious activity in the gallery and protect her friends and family.

Sargent Singer is an artist and a bit of a protegee. He’s come to spend the summer with his father, who runs the Beaverbrook art gallery. Sergeant quickly discovers that the picturesque gallery has some hidden secrets. He becomes immersed in the world of the inhabitants of the paintings and forms a strong friendship with Mona. However, some things aren’t adding up, both inside and outside of the frames. In the outside world, Sergeant has to deal with his tremulous relationship with his dad, Isaac Singer. In the wake of his dad’s new relationship and his mom’s remarriage, which brings along the addition of two stepsiblings, Sargent is trying to find where he belongs, if at all, in his new families.

I found this book to be intriguing, funny, heartfelt, and all around enjoyable. Having read a considerable amount of middle-grade fiction, I’ve seen both tropes and really unique stories. “The Frame Up” is definitely on the latter list.

Right from the start, I found myself engaged by the main characters. Despite one being two literally two dimensional, the characters were well rounded and realistic, something that’s hard to do with twelve and thirteen-year-old characters. Right off the bat, Mona was late for the community meeting because she had been daydreaming, something that is both mundane and relatable. Seargent was fast to judge his dad, and though he was an art protege, his talents weren’t mentioned excessively and were not his defining trait. He didn’t save anyone by whipping up a painting, and he acted like every other twelve-year-old, getting annoyed with his dad and worrying about making friends in a new place. The supporting cast was also well characterized and moved with the story, and in the end, there wasn’t a moment when I said, “wait, what happened to that character?”

But most importantly, the story was a mystery. Throughout all the newly-formed friendships, the fighting with parents, and the movie-going escapades, McLeod MacKnight never let you forget that. Something shady was always going on in the gallery, whether it was the mysterious (or possibly crazy?) art restorer Mr. Sneely lurking around or treason from inside the frames. I wasn’t able to crack the mystery before the very end, and the author continually kept the reader on their toes.

“The Frame-Up” had creative characters, a good twist and a strong plot with several well-developed subplots. It was a great and relatively easy read, and I was certainly captured by the originality of the idea. I’d highly recommend it, whether you’re a 5th grader or a 5th-year graduate student.