Three years ago, sixteen-year-old Maddie Deacon was abducted on her way home from her school’s Art Showcase. Five months ago, she escaped the madman she calls The Painter. Before being taken, painting was Maddie’s life. Now, it’s her nightmare.
Maddie wants to forget her years in captivity. She’d rather spend her time getting reacquainted with her parents and her sister, not to mention her cello-playing, beautiful boy next door and childhood best friend Wesley. But paint is everywhere, and tormenting shadows linger in every portrait she encounters.
When the yearly Art Showcase once again approaches, Maddie has the chance to win a scholarship and start planning a future far away from the horrors of her past. She knows she has to make a choice–confront her memories of The Painter and overcome her fear of the canvas, or give up painting forever.
14+ due to adult situations, language
“Hello, Maddie,” Tim says, taking a sip from his Healing Expressions coffee cup. I’m glad he and Juliet call me Maddie instead of Madison, like Klara does. I’ve gone by Maddie since my days in preschool, and being called it here makes the office seem slightly less institutional.
Of course, it doesn’t make this moment any less awful.
“H-hi,” I stammer, my voice thin. My feet ache as I force them across the threshold. Tim prefers it if I close the door behind me, but I need to see my escape route. Shakily, I cross the room and sit on the bench along the wall of windows that look down over the parking lot. The cushions are soft, bright orange, and there are pink and green and blue throw pillows scattered along the seat. I grab the blue one, and hug it to my chest as I stare at the world on the free side of the glass panes.
It’s a strange sensation, watching the world like this. In elementary school, at recess, I would sit by the fences backing the neighborhood houses. With my head tilted into the cool fall or warm spring breeze, I would close my eyes and picture the people in those houses: people not working, people working from home, people driving the streets or watering their lawns or relaxing in front of the TV, while I remained stuck at school for another several hours. I have the same thoughts now as I gaze over the parking lot, far out to the park, the townhouse complex, and the streets beyond. So many people sleeping, reading, shopping––all while I’m here, trapped behind a wall of glass.
It helps to keep my back to the easel. Slowly, the panic of my arrival subsides, and I take full gulping breaths until I’ve settled into muted unease.
“How are you feeling today, Maddie?” Tim asks. He remains seated. I get antsy if his six-foot-three inch body looms over me.
“I’m fine,” I lie. I’m never fine. Not anymore. But declaring it is like stating the obvious.
“How’s school?” I can hear a smile in his voice. I like Tim’s voice, with its deep, quietly enthusiastic tone. I’m fairly certain I like Tim, too. Or at least I would, if the circumstances were different. If he didn’t have the task of prying, of guiding me into frigid, infested waters every time we meet.
“It’s fine,” I say, shrugging my shoulders.
Tim’s chair scrapes across the floor as he stands. I keep my eyes fixed on the parking lot outside. I’ve found Wesley’s tiny van, and I watch it intently.
Tim approaches, sits on the bench a ways off. “Did you read any papers this week?”
“No.” The tension I nearly shed on the ride over here is creeping back again. I hate therapy. I don’t understand how digging into every unpleasant crevice of my subconscious is supposed to make my life easier.
“How about the news? Did you watch any?” Tim asks, even though I’m already shaking my head.
“Y-You know I didn’t,” I reply, and Tim breathes out, the resulting sound just short of a sigh.
“How many times have you had to avoid his picture?” he asks, and I squeeze the pillow until my fingers are white.
“S-Seventy … S-Seventy-two,” I choke out.
It’s become a habit keeping track of the number of times I stop myself from seeing him. When I go to the drugstore and see the papers lined in a hideous row. When the news comes on, and reporters rehash what happened.
In the beginning, it was far harder. There were articles all over, news stories, constant threats to my sanity. Five months on, most of my count comes from the personal attacks, the times I remember something, imagine something, and his face almost manages to push its way in.
“Good. An improvement on last week,” Tim says, the pleasing smoothness of his voice giving the achievement a more respectable air than it deserves. Last week there were seventy-eight occurrences. Having six fewer episodes means nothing, except Tim is trying to be as positive as possible.
Plus, there’s the phone call to consider. Last week might have been an improvement, but I’m certain my methods of diversion will fail to keep me from replaying the conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear this morning.
Posted by by Charlotte Duggan on 22nd Dec 2015
Madison Deacon, 16, is in recovery. Just six months ago, she escaped from a man she refers to as “The Painter” who held her tied up “in a dank, dark room” for two and half years. Blank Canvas follows Maddie’s post-trauma journey as she struggles to regain control of her life and put the terror of the kidnapping behind her.
Canadian author Mere Joyce takes readers into the heart and soul of Maddie’s battle by telling her story in the first person. At times defiant and angry, and at others depressed and hopeless, Maddie is self-reflective and self-critical. She narrates her concerns about the worry she continues to cause her parents and sister, her inability to tell all to her therapist, and the confusion she feels about letting Wes, both friend and love interest, into her heart. Mostly she grieves the loss of her life’s great passion, painting.
Joyce builds suspense through a sensitive and authentic depiction of Maddie’s inner conflict. Maddie understands that revealing what happened to her during the two and a half years she spent tied to a closet door may help her recover. But even thinking about The Painter causes Maddie such anguish that suppressing the trauma feels safer. So, while on the surface Maddie seems to be coping well, her inner turmoil occasionally breaks the surface in the form of a stutter.
Visually oriented readers will appreciate the use of artistic language in this novel. The legacy of The Painter’s sick obsession with painting may prevent Maddie from creating art, but she still sees and describes the world in the rich vivid detail of an artist. This neat, stylistic device allows Joyce to show, rather than tell, readers about Maddie’s artistic character.
Describing a drawing she is working on following an evening out with her sister, Maddie says, “I start with the lights. I make them shine, make them streak through the night. I love the contrast of the soft misty colors against the grey-black outlines of the pencil.” And later on, as Maddie turns the corner towards healing, she decides to get her hair cut. Describing what she sees in the mirror when the stylist has finished she says,
My whole head has been dyed an even, white-blond color, with actual strands of white and silver throughout. And on my right, the hair framing my face has been accented with an undercurrent of black peeking out through the strands.
Painting and art are primary themes in this novel. Joyce uses art to show the power of art to reveal and heal as Maddie moves from being unable to even look at a canvas, to becoming physically ill when she sees a painting that reminds her of her captor, to ultimately triumphing over him by creating an award-winning painting.
Joyce understands that the kidnapping and confinement are quite enough horror for her young teen audience, and so, early in the novel, Maddie lets the reader know that she was not sexually assaulted by The Painter. But it takes the length of the novel for Maddie to open up and share what The Painter did to her. She tells Wes, “He liked to paint me. He’d start at one body part, and move to another, until my skin was covered with his random, senseless designs”.
Leaning a little heavily into the too-good-to-be-true category, Joyce has populated Maddie’s life with a highly functional family and a remarkably wise boyfriend. Both are instrumental in helping Maddie heal.
Maddie and Wes’s romance heats up quickly once Maddie begins to trust those around her. But here again, Joyce is mindful of her audience, and the details of their passion are graphic enough to be interesting but restrained enough for a junior high aged audience.
The takeaway for this audience is likely to be an enjoyable, entertaining novel about a very likeable character. More thoughtful readers may also see a message about how patience and love can help us find the courage we need to recover from even the most horrifying of events.
Posted by Confusedagony on 2nd Oct 2015
Blank Canvas is a very emotional rollercoaster ride. For Two and a half years Maddie has been in the hands of a deranged guy who calls himself the painter. He kept her in a room, locked up and painted when he felt the urge. Maddie might not have suffered like anyone else and she knows she could have had it worse but she was still kidnapped and scared. His image and the memories from that time will always be with her but she is slowly coming back to herself and I think it’s a wonderful thing.
The author did a great job writing Blank Canvas and I highly recommend it. It’s full of mystery, tension, fear, being true to oneself, accomplishments, romance and family support. Maddie has been through a lot but she has a great support system and I was glad. Her family let her have her space when she needed it, they pushed a little when it came to it, they got her in therapy and Maddie had people around her she could trust.
Slowly but surely, her story came out and even though it wasn’t told to the same people, you're finally able to understand what she went through and what drives her. I also loved the fact that author lets you see a little bit of what the people around her went through when she was gone. Wesley, her sister and parents, they might not have experienced things the way she did but they were affected too when she disappeared and I have great respect for all of them.
Posted by Unknown on 7th Jul 2015
A very compelling story...difficult to put down!
Posted by Philip on 7th Jul 2015
Mere Joyce provides a gritty journey of emotional healing told from the point of view of Maddie Deacon after the trauma of her kidnapping and captivity. The text flows naturally with almost poetic descriptions and the author's eye for detail is very apparent.
A thoroughly enjoyable read that is hard to put down as the reader stays hungry for answers through to the end. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Posted by Danielle E. Shipley on 1st Jul 2015
I’ll admit I went somewhat dubiously into this book. Not because of any particular doubts about the author – I’ve followed her blog for some while, and so knew she was quite capable of stringing a sentence together – but because of the book’s premise. This isn’t the sort of story I usually gravitate toward. And yet, as it unfolded chapter by chapter, I began to think that, just maybe, it’s the sort of story I kind of needed to read right now.
I felt so much for Maddie – someone trying for normal after everything’s been cruelly shaken up and she doesn’t feel like herself; doesn’t know what self she even is, anymore.
I empathized more than I thought I would. Related more than I expected to. Though I’m blessedly ignorant of what I’d think and feel and do in Maddie’s situation, her telling of it rang true and honest. She made it understandable. And with or without the traumatic cause, I know all too well how painful it is to be an artist who is – for whatever reason – unable to feed their starving passion.
I might as well also point out that Maddie’s determinedly enthusiastic little sister came darn close to making me cry. So here’s to you, Mere Joyce.
This book read like art, and I deeply appreciated it. Simple as that.