The Janus Gate: An Encounter with John Singer Sargent

Written by Douglas Rees
Review by Lessa J. Scherrer

The Janus Gate is part of the Art Encounters fiction series designed to introduce young adults to great painters. The book’s subject is Sargent’s early painting The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, a portrait of the four girls. Rees imagines that the haunting and unconventional composition of the painting reflects a turbulent Boit household, which repels Sargent initially. When one of the girls scratches the words “HELP US” into a piece of drawing paper, Sargent realizes he is the only one who can save them.

The story consciously evokes The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, a contemporary and friend of John Singer Sargent. Rees does an excellent job of developing an appropriately spooky atmosphere, though I did find myself a tad bit disappointed at his ultimate explanation of the strange events. The story should appeal to middle-school girls who can identify with one or more of the daughters, or to Gothic mystery, horror, or Lemony Snicket fans.