Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Beyond the western Sea: Book One - Escape From Home

Beyond the western Sea: Book One - Escape From Home

For ages 12 and up
Scholastic Press, 2012   ISBN: 978-0545379274

For Maura and her brother Patrick, life in their homeland of Ireland has become so hard that they are not sure that they will be able to survive much longer. At the very least it sounds as if they will soon be homeless, for everyone is saying that Sir James Kirkle's agent will soon be coming to their village to knock down the houses and to drive out the people. Stricken by famine and disease, thousands are leaving Ireland for America, hoping that they will be able to find a better life in the New World. Some months ago the children's father joined this exodus, but nothing has been heard from him since, and their mother has quite given up hope that he will ever write to them. Then they get a letter. They are going to America to join their father at last.

In London Laurence Kirkle, Lord Kirkle's son, is getting beaten up. His older brother Albert is determined to blacken Laurence's  name, and Lord Kirkle refuses to listen to what Laurence has to say in his defense. In a fit of rage and misery Laurence decides that he cannot stay in his father's house any longer and that he must run away. He decides that America might be the perfect place for him. Hasn't he heard that younger sons are not treated badly there?

Soon Maura and Patrick are traveling from Ireland and Laurence is traveling from London. They are all headed for Liverpool where they hope to catch a boat to America. Unfortunately, all three of the children become the targets of unscrupulous people who have no qualms about making use of them  in any way that they can. Pursued by the police, private detectives, criminals and others, the children meet up quite by chance. Perhaps if they help one another they can survive what lies ahead of them.

Gripping and with a definite Dickensian flavor to it, this story often paints a very grim picture of what life was like in England and Ireland in the mid 1800's. Children and others who were easy 'marks' were exploited by ruthless people whose only interest was in lining their own pockets, and the gap between the rich and the poor was an enormous insurmountable gulf.  In this memorable book Avi spins a wonderful tale against the backdrop of a fascinating period in world history.