In Stephen Evans’s imaginative young adult fantasy, 12-year-old Lissa plunges into an exquisite undersea world populated by merfolk and sea creatures whose wisdom guides Lissa as she contemplates a life-altering decision.
Painting Sunsets begins with Lissa and her father, a poet and poetry professor, on a pilgrimage to the Key West seaside dock where her father proposed to her mother at sunset 15 years ago. Lissa’s mother, a photojournalist, died on assignment when Lissa was five. During their drive, they recite poetry by Blake, Keats, Dickinson, and Wordsworth.
As the sun starts to set, Lissa notices an artist sketching its fast-moving hues. Intrigued, she approaches the artist. Stunned by her beautiful drawings, Lissa wonders if she could become an artist who creates majestic works. As Lissa watches the sunset’s spectacle, an emanating golden light beckons her to step into the sea.
Lissa lands on the ocean floor’s Golden Path, astonished that she can breathe. A talking fish welcomes her to Kwest — a labyrinthic realm that summons surface dwellers (human and animal) to abandon the land, live undersea forever, and develop as artists who design the world’s sunrises and sunsets. Inhabitants must choose between two crews: the Night, which creates sunrises and brings light to a dark world; or the Day, which designs sunsets as a promise that night is not eternal, and light will return.
Although Lissa yearns to see her father, she wonders if becoming an undersea artist is the path she’s meant to take.
Evans invents a vivid, perpetually lit world that abounds in swirls of luminescence and kaleidoscopic color. Its mystical characters drop inspiring philosophical musings, as in Boo-Mer, a giant manatee, who asks Lissa: “’The beauty where you are is better than the beauty where you aren’t, don’t you think?’” And above all, Evans’s elegant prose emphasizes the aesthetic value of art and the act of creation.
Painting Sunsets’s fantasy elements are spot on, and the novel’s coming-of-age narrative will be equally engaging to YA readers.