Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Julia Vanishes

Julia Vanishes

Catherine Egan
Fiction
For ages 13 and up
Random House, 2016   ISBN: 978-0553524840

When Julia was seven and her brother Dek was ten, their much loved mother was executed for being a witch. There is no doubt in Julia’s mind that her mother was indeed a witch, but as far as Julia knows her mother never used her abilities for evil. Still, in Frayne, witches, “folklorish beliefs,” and other magical things are against the law and so Julia’s mother had to die. Thankfully the children were taken in by Esme, a woman who cared for them, educated them, and then helped them get employment. What Julia does on Esme’s behalf is not exactly legal, but that does not bother her in the least. The world has not been kind to her, so why should she worry about bending the rules. What does it matter if her work involves lying and stealing.

Julia has been hired by one of Esme’s clients to find out everything that she can about what is taking place in the home of Mrs. Och, a well-to-do woman. Posing as a housemaid, Julia watches, listens, and snoops, and then she writes reports about what she has learned.

Julia learns that there are three people living in the house besides Mrs. Och. Professor Baranyi has been living there for some years and is famous, or perhaps one should say infamous, for saying things in an article that earned him the disfavor of the government. Now he works on translating books and Julia finds out that some of the books in his collection are illegal. Mr. Darius is another guest and for some reason his room is in the basement and something about him does not feel right. The third resident is Frederick, a young man who helps the professor with his work. He also helps take care of Mr. Darius, who seems to be prone to sudden and strange bouts of illness.

Julia does not gather much information of interest until she figures out that Mrs. Och is somehow connected to the escape of a witch who was supposed to be executed. Then she learns that Mr. Darius is a wolf man, and that Mrs. Och is desperately trying to find a cure for him before he loses his humanity all together and becomes a dangerous monster all the time. Then another guest joins the household and things get even stranger. Julia has a secret magical ability which allows her to vanish, or rather blend in with her surroundings. Using this ability she overhears a conversation and learns that the guest is a witch and some terrible being is pursuing her, killing everyone she is in contact with.

Julia starts to experience a strange emotion, one that she is not familiar with: guilt. If she delivers the information she knows to the client, Mrs. Och and all her dependents will surely suffer. If she does not follow through on the commission she will not get the money she has been promised. Things are further complicated by the fact that now for the first time in her life, Julia does not push away her own questions about witches, her mother, and her own ability. She wants to know more, and Mrs. Och may be the one person who can help her better understand.

What Julia never expects is that her encounter with Mrs. Och’s household will force her to confront terrible truths about herself and change her life forever.

This powerful novel takes readers into a world where magic flourishes, but where there are many people who want magic to be suppressed or destroyed. Then there are those who wield magic for their own selfish purposes, not caring who they hurt in the process. It is sometimes a painful story, and yet it is also uplifting when we realize that though there are many forces of evil in Julia’s world, there are also many forces of good who fight for what is right.

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