Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Chris Howard
For ages 13 and up
Scholastic, 2012   ISBN: 978-0545387897

Generations ago the Darkness came to the world, and by the time the Darkness passed, everything had changed. On the heels of this terrible event swarms of locusts hatched and they ate every plant and tree. In response to the plague of these flying eating machines, a company called GenTech created corn plants that the locusts could not eat. The corn could be turned into fuel or food, and the company now owns every kernel that grows. If you want corn to eat, you have to pay GenTech for it, and if you are caught stealing the corn, or try to grow it, more often than not GenTech employees will kill you. Every kernel of the corn has the word GenTech written on it in small purple letters, a code built into the DNA of the plant.

Since they cannot eat the corn, and every other living plant species on the planet is gone, the locusts have evolved to become meat eaters. Terrestrial animals are also gone, and so the locusts prey on any humans who are foolhardy enough to go where the swarms gather.

In this grim world full of suffering, deprivation and inequality, a few people have found a way to do well. Everyone else scrapes by as best they can. Banyan travels from place to place building trees for people who can afford to pay him for the luxury. He and his father used to work together, and then almost a year ago, during a storm on the outskirts of Vega, Banyan’s father was taken and Banyan has no idea what happened to him. Perhaps slavers have him, perhaps he was taken by people who work in the meat trade. Banyan has asked countless people about his father, but no one has seen him.

Now Banyan has been given the job of building a forest for a rich man called Frost. Frost tells Banyan that he wants him to build trees that will show the seasons, and then he shows Banyan his wife’s tattoo, a tattoo of a beautiful tree. He wants Banyan to create a tree that is as lifelike as the artwork etched into her skin.

Frost is a pretty horrible person, but beggars like Banyan cannot be choosers, and so he gets on with collecting scrap to build Frost’s forest. He has barely begun when Frost’s wife’s daughter, Zee, shows him a photograph, and in the photograph there is a grove of trees. Chained to one of the trees is Banyan’s father. His father looks older than he looked a year ago so Banyan knows that this photo is more recent. What he does not know is where the photo was taken. Trees are extinct and yet here is a grove of them; real trees with bark and leaves. How is that possible?

With Zee in tow, Banyan sets about trying to find out where the trees are. Some people talk about their being a Promised Land called Zion, a place where there are still trees, clean air, and no GenTech. Banyan has always discounted their stories, but perhaps there is some truth to them. Without meaning to, Banyan gets caught up in a fight between pirates and slavers and he finds out that he is not the only one looking for the grove of trees. There are others, people like Frost, who want to capitalize on the most precious thing on earth. There are others who will do anything to achieve their goals, and if Banyan gets in their way, he will be cut down.

In this novel the author takes readers to a post-apocalyptic world that is truly horrendous. The remarkable thing is that in this world where life is so cheap and cruelty is rife, one can still find kindness, courage, friendship, loyalty and even love. As the story unfolds, terrible secrets come to light and it is painful to see how much Banyan and his friends suffer as they stumble towards, and then are dragged to, the Zion that they seek.