Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Jon McGoran
For ages 13 and up
Holiday House, 2017   ISBN: 978-0823438556

Jimi, like most people, has problems. She lives in the shadow of her jock brother, her father died in one of the big flu epidemics, and she does not have many friends. The good news is that she has Del, her one friend who is always there for her. They go to and from school together, hang out all the time, and support one another through thick and thin. Del particularly needs Jimi because his father, Stan, is abusive and cruel. Ever since the death of his wife, Del’s mother, Stan has become more and more extreme in his views, and he is now a member of a church that is very conservative in its beliefs.

The plan is that Jimi and Del will go to college together. Del just has to hold on a little longer and then he will be free of his father. This is easier said than done because Stan seems to be getting worse with every passing day. After a particularly nasty altercation between Del and his dad, Jimi and Del end up having to walk to school because they missed the bus. The route that they have to take requires that they walk through a section of the zurbs, the run down part of the city that most people living in the city proper avoid as much as possible. Many of the houses in the zurbs are empty, and some of them are now occupied by chimeras. Chimeras are people who have spliced animal DNA into their human DNA so that they acquire animal characteristics. Thus they end up with whiskers, fur, fangs, feathers and other features from mammals and birds.

Del thinks that chimeras are “cool,” but Jimi thinks that tampering with DNA is mistake. The illegal process of splicing can go horribly wrong for one thing. For another, chimeras are not liked by many people. In fact there is a growing section of society that thinks that chimeras should be declared nonpeople, and thus stripped of their rights. And let’s not forget that chimeras don’t end up going to college and are more likely to be unemployed and marginalized. Jimi has nothing against chimeras per se, but she does not think the coolness of being a chimera is worth the discrimination and abuse that chimeras are subjected to.

While they are walking through the zurbs, Jimi and Del see some policeman beating up chimeras. Del attacks and he almost kills one of the policemen. In fact, if Jimi hadn’t got involved the officer would surely have died. Del runs off and Jimi is taken in by the police for questioning. They know that she wasn’t involved in the violence, but Jimi’s mother is still very angry with her. She, and the school vice principal, tell Jimi to stay away from Del and the chimeras, but this simply isn’t something that Jimi can do. Her best friend in the whole world is on the run and she guesses that he has decided to become a chimera. She cannot just let Del mess up his life without trying to reach out to him.

Without hesitation Jimi sneaks out and starts looking for her friend. When she finally finds him with the help of a chimera called Rex, Del is in a house in the zurbs and she is too late. He has already had animal DNA added to his body; he chose to add salamander DNA to his own. When Jimi sees Del he is “sweating out the change” and is very sick indeed. In fact his symptoms are so severe that Jimi worries that he might die. Fatalities do occur sometimes. The situation is made more dangerous because Del chose to add amphibian DNA in his splicing instead of mammal DNA, which is what most people do because it is more compatible.

With Rex’s help they get Del to a fixer whom they hope will be able to reverse the splicing process before it is a permanent. Unfortunately the police raid the place where the doctor has set up shop, and in the chaos Del disappears; before the doctor is able to complete the reversal.

Jimi has no idea where Del is, but she is determined not to give up on him. Even though she is in all likelihood jeopardizing her own future, Jimi tries to find her friend, hoping that he is okay and that he has not fallen into the hands of the increasingly dangerous and violent anti-chimera radicals.

This extraordinary book put readers into a world that is some years in the future. Life has changed to some degree, but at the same time many things are the same. The striking difference is the fact that the gap between the haves and the have nots has widened, and it is widening even further for the chimera.

Though the science is interesting, and the narrative and characters are fascinating, what is really intriguing about this story is the way in which the author explores how human society reacts to people who are different. Anyone who does not ‘fit in’ is treated with suspicion, and in some cases the outsider is vilified and ill-used. We have seen this happen in human society over and over again over the centuries, which is more than a little discouraging. Will we ever learn from our mistakes, and move on to become a more accepting and compassionate species?