Chosen by the Junior Library Guild as a Fiction Book for Young Adults in 2005

From Buffalo News March 27

This action-packed adventure serves as a fascinating introduction to artist Paul Gauguin and the six months he spent painting in Tahiti in 1891. The latest in the publisher's Art Encounters series, this interesting book invents a marvelous back story for the young man wearing a hat who appears in the Gauguin painting "Landscape With Peacocks," which is pictured on the book's cover....Rees, who wrote Young Adult novels "Lightning Time" and "Vampire High" and the quirky picture book "Grandy Thaxter's Helper," offers an interesting portrait of the temperamental painter, skillfully weaving colorful historical anecdotes and real-life personages into a fiction narrative.

From Booklist

Gr. 9-12. Like other titles in the new Art Encounters series, this weaves biographical facts about a famous artist into a compelling novel. Here, the narrator is 15-year-old Joe Sloan, a Mexican American who flees his unhappy home, becomes a sailor, and lands in Tahiti in the 1890s, just as Paul Gauguin arrives. In a remote village, Joe forms an intense friendship with the mercurial Gauguin and falls deeply in love with a Tahitian girl. Gauguin's complicated, condescending views of the Tahitians as "noble savages" may jar contemporary readers, as might moments of violence: throughout, Joe plots to avenge a friend's murder; and a subplot that centers on smuggling leads to a heart-pounding conclusion. Rees has clearly done his research, and he admirably incorporates Gauguin's work and voice (a few famous quotes are included) into a romantic coming-of-age story that asks compelling questions about how artists create and where their lives and art intersect. An afterword and a time line of Gauguin's life will help readers separate fact from fiction.

From Children's Literature

In Tahiti, Joe Sloan sets out to avenge the death of his friend and shipmate, Robert, and to tell Robert's girlfriend, Tehani, of his death. In this effort, he travels from Papeete to the smaller city of Mataiea where he acquires the name Totefa as a Tahitian reworking of the name Joseph. He finds Tehani who wants him to give up the idea of revenge and live happily. Totefa settles in and becomes friends with the complicated artist, Paul Gauguin, on whom, Totefa seems to have a positive influence. A Chinese merchant, gunrunners, and a girl friend complicate Totefa's efforts for revenge. The story is created from the mention in Gauguin's journal of Totefa and the five or six paintings in which he appears. Each of these paintings is said to mark a new depth in Gauguin's work. The story is set in the six months Gauguin lived in Tahiti in 1891. The painting "Smoking Mirror" or "Matamoe" is featured. A glossary and pronunciation guide for the foreign words would be helpful. There is a short history and timeline of Gauguin's life. This is part of a series, "Art Encounters."

From School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up-It is 1891 and Joe Sloan, a half-Mexican, half-American sailor from California, has recently disembarked in Tahiti. His friend Robert was murdered minutes after they arrived, and Joe is left with feelings of grief and revenge. To fulfill a pledge to his friend, he searches for and finds Tehane, the girl Robert loved. When Paul Gauguin arrives in the small village, Joe has several encounters with him; most of them involve insults and punches, but they become friends. Joe's relationship with Tehane also changes as they fall in love. But she, along with the rest of her village, doesn't trust the French artist, which causes a rift in their relationship. This novel is likely to lose readers. In the first three chapters alone, the author begins to develop several topics-the death of Robert, the death of the Tahitian king, the death of the Tahitian culture and way of life, Joe's despair and suicidal thoughts, his need for revenge, and the search for Tehane. Many of these plot threads have acceptable conclusions. Others seem to be dropped altogether. The initial encounters with Gauguin seem to be added as an afterthought, and dialogue with him is often stilted. When readers finally get to know the artist, in the second half of the novel, he becomes a more developed character. Overall, this story is not likely to sustain readers' interest.

From Kirkus Reviews

French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin's arrival in the lush, colorful world of Tahiti in 1891 is the focus of this second entry in the Art Encounters historical-fiction series. Fifteen-year-old Mexican-American, Joe Sloan and his French sailor friend Robert arrive in Papeete to find Tehane, Robert's Tahitian fiancee. When Robert is murdered, a stunned Joe feels haunted by Smoking Mirror, the Aztec god of loss and change. Consumed with revenge, Joe encounters the eccentric Gauguin with his naive visions of "an exotic paradise full of unspoiled primitive people." After a shaky start, Joe gradually assimilates and forgets about revenge as he falls in love with Tehane and supports the penniless, temperamental Gauguin in his search for "savage" beauty. Ultimately Joe helps Gauguin "paint the world new, as it was at the creation," and Gauguin helps Joe confront Smoking Mirror. An intimate peek at Gauguin's creative process and the story behind the cover painting Matamoe with just enough action and native color to entice.