Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



R. P MacIntyre, Wendy MacIntyre
For ages 14 and up
Groundwood Books, 2007   ISBN: 978-0888997500

It all begins when Jessica puts a personal ad in the Globe and Mail. She is looking for her father and asks anyone who sees a man matching his description to write to her. Jessica gets a lot of replies, most of which are from “perverts and weirdos,” and she also gets a letter from James Charles MacSween. James, or Sween as he prefers to be called, has seen someone who matches the description in the personal ad and he suggests that Jessica shouldn’t have anything to do with the man in question.

Jessica writes back to Sween explaining that though she cannot stand her father, she needs him to come home. Ever since he ran off with a peroxide blond called Gloria, her mother has been a basket case. She has been drinking heavily and popping little blue pills as if they are candy. Her mother has therefore been unable to take care of Timmy, Jessica’s younger, high-maintenance brother. For now Jessica can take care of him on her own, but when school resumes in the fall she is going to need her mother to step up. Jessica is hoping that if her father, who calls himself The Gunner, comes home, her mother will start being a mother to Timmy again and the boy won’t have to be Jessica’s responsibility “24/7.”

Sween writes back to Jessica and he tells her that he has determined that the man he has seen is not The Gunner after all. Jessica is disappointed of course but she a strong person so she has a silent rant for a while and then gets on with things. In a letter she tells Sween a bit about her family and she also tells him that she thinks that he sounds like a “sensitive, thoughtful person.”

Though Sween has no idea where The Gunner is, he and Jessica continue to correspond. They do so using letters because Jessica does not have a computer and because the phone in her house has been cut off. Her home situation is pretty dire in fact. The Gunner seems to despise his daughter and is ashamed of his autistic son. He is also a philanderer and has been in jail.  In spite of all these failings Jessica’s mother still loves the wretched man.

Jessica learns that Sween is a rich kid and yet he too is having a hard time. Sween has “an attitude” and has been expelled from three schools in two years. Sween and his dad do not get along at all, and his mother “lives in some sort of lobotomized 1950’s time-warp” deferring to her husband on everything. If Sween gets expelled again his father has threatened to throw him out of the house.

Jessica advises Sween to keep his head down and to put up with things for just a little while longer, but in the end Sween gets into trouble again and he is kicked out of his parent’s home. He goes to his uncle’s cabin in the woods and he lives a very uncomfortable, and cold, life.  Meanwhile, thousands of miles away The Gunner comes back and Jessica lives with the fear that he will send Timmy to an institution.

This novel-in-letters is both uplifting and heartbreaking. We stand on the sidelines ‘witnessing’ the ups and downs in Jessica and Sween’s lives, hoping that things will work out for the young people. The interesting thing is that in the end, when their lives collide, everything both goes wrong and it goes right.