Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Fonda Lee
For ages 13 and up
Scholastic Press, 2017   ISBN: 978-0545933438

More than a century ago alien ships landed on Earth. For the first two weeks, the aliens, the zhree, did nothing. Then they released a broadcast announcing that they had placed the planet under their “jurisdiction and protection.” Humankind was supposed to accept the situation and give in quietly. They didn’t. For thirty years war between the aliens and humans raged. Humans fought back harder than the zhree expected, but in the end the aliens won.

Since peace was declared, the zhree have formed a close collaborative relationship with humans. Many of the technologies that make life easier on Earth today came from them, and some humans have even gone so far as to fuse some of the alien technology to their own bodies. This allows them to have organic, built-in tools that give them otherwise unheard of abilities. Soldiers, for example, have their own built in body armor, and knives that can be brought to the fore when needed during combat.

Donovan Reyes is one of these soldiers. When he was still a little boy he was put through a process called Hardening which incorporated living machine cells with his own body’s organic tissue. Thus he became an exo, and later a member of an erze, a close-knit family type unit. Donovan joined the security forces and now he spends his days patrolling areas where extremists are active, seeking out cells of the Sapience terrorist organization.

Though Donovan is content with the way life is now on Earth, and has no problem with the zhree, this is not the case for everyone on the planet. There are many humans who resent the colonists and want humans to have a completely independent government and alien-free living spaces once again. They resent the presence of the zhree in their lives and want them to leave. Members of Sapience hit back at the zhree and other targets at every opportunity, and regularly release anti-zhree pamphlets, which they try to distribute to the human population.

One day Donovan and his partner Jet follow up on a tipoff about a potential Sapience cell. Soon after they arrive at the address that they were given, a fire fight ensues. Donovan is taken captive by three Sapience cell members, and they are in the process of torturing him when they find out that he is the son of the Prime Liaison, a high-ranking government official. The terrorists are delighted by this discovery and are hopeful that they will be able to use Donovan to get the government to cooperate. Donovan knows better. He knows that his father will not respond to terrorist threats and that the government will not comply with any of the Sapience demands. It turns out that he is right. Donovan’s father will do nothing to help his son, and now Donovan is one his own, a captive in a very hostile environment.

Donovan is taken to the Sapience headquarters where, for the first time, he really sees how much exos are hated by regular humans. They consider him and his kind to be traitors to their species, and feel that they are not even real humans any more.  Donovan is taken to meet the Sapience leader and then someone called Max is brought to meet him. Max is the person who has been writing the anti-zhree pamphlets that Donovan has been tracking down; and Max is also Donovan’s mother.

Max left Donovan and his father when Donovan was only five and has not seen her son since. Donovan’s father never adequately explained why his wife left, and now Donovan has the opportunity to find out what really happened. It turns out that when his father found out that Max had Sapience sympathies, he told her that she had to leave there and then and never come back or he would go after her friends and family members.  And so she left her life and her son behind, and leaving Donovan just about broke her heart.

Donovan spends a lot of time with Max and other Sapience members, and in the process he learns more about their cause and their grievances against the zhree. Many people in Sapience think that Donovan is an abomination and want to turn back the clock to the days before the zhree arrived, which simply isn’t possible. In spite of their extremist views, Donovan cannot help caring about a few of his captors. Donovan does not want them to be injured or killed in the conflict between Sapience and the zhree-backed government, but at the same time he does not want them to destroy the establishment that he is a part of either.

This remarkable book tells the story of a young man, a soldier, who is literally caught in the middle of two worlds. His loyalties to the government, his father, and his brothers and sisters in arms are sorely tried when he is reunited with his mother and when he develops feelings for a Sapience follower. Though the world Donovan belongs to is very different from ours, there are elements in this story that will be familiar to readers; a society divided, a hankering for a life that is no longer possible, and a hunger for violence that is fed by fear, superstition, and hate. These are things that we see in our world every day.