Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Cassie Binegar

Cassie Binegar

Patricia MacLachlan
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2002   ISBN: 978-0064401951

Cassie is angry because, not long ago, her parents moved their whole family from their home inland to a house by the shore. The location is more convenient for Cassie’s father and brothers, who are fishermen. Cassie’s parents also plan to make some much needed extra money by renting out the cottages that “spread about the house like seeds sown from an apron.”

Cassie does not like her new home and her new life. She likes order and neatness. She likes having her own space. Here by the sea everything is chaotic, even the garden, and Cassie does not have a quiet space of her own where she can sit and work on her poems. If only she could go back to the life she had before the move.

What makes things even harder is the fact that Cassie’s family members are loud and rambunctious, a harum-scarum bunch who are so unlike her that at times she wonders if she was adopted. It turns out that she wasn’t. Her mother gave birth to her in the back of a taxi.

Grumpy and fed up, Cassie ends up making friends with Margaret Mary, an English girl who recently moved to the United States. In Cassie’s opinion Margaret Mary is perfect: from her neat smooth hair to her shiny shoes. She wears pretty dresses with matching socks, her home is immaculate, her mother is always beautifully dressed, and her life is so ordered and neat. Margaret Mary has what Cassie wishes she could have. The strange thing is that Margaret Mary does not seem to think her life is perfect. In fact, when she comes to Cassie’s house, she seems to delight in taking off her perfect shoes and diving into the unpredictable life in Cassie’s house. Cassie finds this very puzzling. How can anyone like her crazy family?

Things get even crazier when Cassie’s widowed grandmother, her uncle Hat, her cousin Coralinda, and Coralinda’s little girl, Binnie come to stay. None of the visitors are what people would consider normal, which Cassie finds infuriating. Cor uses feathers to adorn herself, Uncle Hat talks in verse, and Binnie refuses to use words that anyone can understand. Grandma is a force of nature who does as she pleases and says what she thinks.

Feeling homesick, lonely, and misunderstood, Cassie stays on the periphery, keeping her distance from her family members. She dwells on her problems, wishing that things did not have to change, but change they do. In fact another change arrives on the scene that adds another layer of complication to Cassie’s life.

Many people have a hard time adjusting when their lives take a turn that they are not expecting. If they are unlucky they, like Cassie, fight against the change and resent it. If they are lucky they learn to look at their circumstances in a new way and see the possibilities that might lie in their future. They also learn that their perspective of what is going on around them is only one of many viewpoints. What would it be like if they looked at their life through someone else’s eyes?

In this wonderful book, Patricia MacLachlan explores the ways in which a young girl grows as she learns to bend with the wind and perhaps, just maybe, embrace the changes that take place in her life. Beautiful writing and intimate revelations make this a book that adults as well as children will enjoy.