Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Ally Condie
For ages 13 and up
Penguin, 2014   ISBN: 978-0525426448

Long ago the people living on the land under the sun and sky, polluted and ill-used their world to such a degree that their species was on the brink of dying out altogether. It was decided that humanity would have to “Divide” to save human kind. Some of the population would be sent to live in a city under the sea. Below the water, human beings would have “Long life, health, strength and happiness,” and the people Above would have to suffer “Short life, illness, weakness, and misery” so that Atlantia and its people could thrive.

Though Atlantia is a beautiful place, a miraculous place, it is not without its troubles. Illness does come to those who live there. Water-lung claimed the life of Rio and Bay’s father when he was still young. Misery also comes to the people of Atlantia. Not long ago Rio and Bay’s beloved mother, and Atlantia’s adored leader, died suddenly and her loss is keenly felt. The twins’ mother served her people as their Minister for many years, and now a very different kind of Minister stands at the alter in the temple.

Atlantia is also a place that is full of secrets. Rio’s secret has been a burden on her and her family ever since she was little. Rio is a siren, and instead of giving her to the Council to be raised, which has been the fate of all sirens for a long time, Rio’s mother chose to keep her daughter’s ability hidden so that Rio could stay with the people who love her best. Sirens can influence people with their voices, and though their ability is considered a gift, it is also feared enough that the leadership of Atlantia decided that they alone should be the ones to guide, or control, the sirens.

For years Rio has looked forward to the time when she would be allowed to choose where she wants to live. Every year, on the anniversary of the Divide, young people in Atlantia decide if they will stay Below, or sacrifice for the good of all by going to live Above. For years Rio has planned on choosing to go Above, for surely there she will be allowed to finally let her siren voice speak freely.

Now though everything has changed. With the sudden death of their mother, Rio and Bay have decided that they will both remain Below. Bay cannot bear to leave her home, and she also cannot bear to be separated from the only family she has left. For Bay’s sake Rio agrees to stay in Atlantia and give up on her dreams of a free life Above.

On the day of the ceremony, Rio goes first and announces in front of everyone that she will “accept my fate Below.” Bay then speaks and to Rio’s surprise she chooses to “sacrifice in the Above.” Before Rio can do anything, Bay is taken away and Rio is left behind in a world that she longs to escape.

Though no one has ever managed to leave Atlantia unless they are given permission to do so, Rio decides that she is going to find a way go Above. She has to find Bay and find out what made her leave. She also has to find out more about their mother’s death. Rio sets about trying to find a way to escape, which is when her mother’s estranged sister, Maire, reaches out to her. Maire is a powerful siren and some even say that she is a sea witch. Rio distrusts and dislikes her aunt and tries to avoid her, but the siren will not be cast off. She has things to share with Rio, secrets, and in spite of herself Rio is drawn to her mercurial aunt. Rio listens to what Maire has to tell her, and watches what Maire has to show her, and as a result Rio begins to realize that much of what she has been told about Atlantia and the sirens is untrue. The people of the Below are willing to believe what they are told, to listen to the words of the tame sirens that the Council controls, but Maire knows that beneath it all there are deceptions and lies, and she wants her niece to know what is real and what is false.

This powerful novel explores the way a young woman learns about herself and the world that she lives in. Rio believes that she is inherently selfish, like her aunt Maire, but it turns out that there is more to her than that, there is something within in that is special. Rio has to discover what that something is, and in the process she finds a voice that is all hers as well.