Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

City of Savages Audio

City of Savages Audio

Lee Kelly
For ages 13 and up
Unabridged audiobook (Digital)
Performed/read by: Cassandra Campbell, Rebecca Lowman, and Joy Osmanski
Simon and Schuster Audio, 2015 

When Sky was just a baby, New York, D.C, Los Angeles, and San Francisco were attacked by China and what amounted to World War III was the result. Not long after the initial attacks, Sky’s little sister Phee was born. The sisters have no memory of what life was life “before.” The Manhattan Island that they know has always been cut off from the mainland. A woman called Rolladin has always ruled, with a fist of iron, over a prisoner of war settlement based in Central Park. She was appointed the warden of the camp by the Red Allies when Manhattan fell, and now she is the only real contact that the people living in the park have with the outside world where war still rages.

Now that the Red Allies have withdrawn from the island and no longer oversee the prisoner of war camp, some of the POWs choose to live outside the camp. During the warm months Sky, Phee, and their mother Sarah live in a high rise near the river, hunting for wild animals on the streets, and growing food in a garden on the roof. When late fall comes around they go to live in the camp in Central Park, even though they all despise Rolladin and the little empire that she has built around herself. Trying to survive outside the camp during the cold months would be too difficult. On Phee’s sixteenth birthday, they head for Central Park, knowing that they have to get there by a certain time, per Rolladin’s rules.

On their way, Sarah takes her daughters to the apartment that she lived in with her husband before. The girls have never seen the place and it feels strange to see the life that their mother had once, seventeen years ago; it is a life that she refuses to talk about. Sarah opens a wall safe and pulls out a gun, which she gives to Phee as her birthday gift. Sky knows that Phee is a warrior at heart and that it is a fitting gift for her, but she cannot help resenting that her little sister was the one who was given such a precious present. While Phee is trying out the gun, Sky looks in the safe and finds that it contains a journal that her mother wrote. Though Sky feels bad about reading her mother’s private writings, she takes the journal with her anyway. Sky wants to know more about her mother, more about what happened when the war broke out.

Sarah and her daughters get to the camp and, after proving that they are worthy of being allowed to join the community, they settle into their winter quarters. They are not there long before a small group of men arrive and are taken into custody. Wanting to know who the men are, Sky and Phee sneak out of their quarters in the middle of the night and go to the Great Hall in Belvedere Castle where they are sure the men are being tried by Rolladin and her Council members. From a hidden vantage point the girls watch the proceedings.

Rollandin’s natural inclination is to assume that everyone who is not part of her community is a threat, and she insists that the newcomers are “raiders from downtown.” The men tell her that they are from London; that they sailed across the ocean and only recently docked at the Brooklyn Yard. One of Rollandin’s warlords tells them that everyone knows that the Brooklyn Yards are being used by the Red Allies, and the Englishmen reply that the war is over. There are no Red Allies, and no America. The “war destroyed everything…everyone.”

For Sky and Phee this news is shocking, earthshaking. Can it really be true? The prisoners are taken away, and then Rolladin and her Council gather to discuss the matter. The sisters find out that Rolladin and her Council members know full well that the war is over. They are keeping the people living in the camp prisoner for no reason.

Phee and Sky decide that they need to leave, but before they can do so they have to talk to the Englishmen to find out more about the world beyond Manhattan Island. When they arrive at the prison one of Rollandin’s warlords is systematically killing the prisoners. Phee steps in and when the confrontation is over one warlord is dead and another is horribly injured. Phee and Sky have no choice but to run, taking the Englishmen with them.

In this extraordinary story we are witnesses as years of secrets and lies are peeled away to reveal at world that is terrifying and full of unknowns. Through the voices of Phee, Sky, and their mother’s journal, we begin to piece together the story of the war, and the story of Sarah’s family, which, as it turns out, are closely intertwined. We see, through the narratives, how people change in times of crises and how they bend the truth to suit their own purposes until they become something unrecognizable.

Powerful and beautifully told, this incredible tale is a must for listeners who enjoy stories that take them into a future that is not too distant in time from our own world.