Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

I had seen Castles: A Novel

I had seen Castles: A Novel

Cynthia Rylant
For ages 14 and up
Harcourt, 2004   ISBN: 978-0152053123

Seventeen-year-old John Dante is ready to go off to war and wishes dearly that he was old enough to enlist. It seems as if all he is doing at the moment is biding his time until he can join up at eighteen. His father has gone to California to work on a defense project there and his mother is spending long hours working in a factory. Even his sister Dianne is doing her part, giving young soldiers her attention and her time before they are shipped out.

Then John falls of a bus. He falls at the feet of a beautiful girl and practically instantly falls in love with her. Ginny is lovely, bright, and not at all conventional. She speaks her mind and she even dares to say that she is against the war. Ginny feels that is wrong to send young men off to kill other young men. Still, she and John grow very close and spend many special days and nights together before he joins up.

At first, like so many other young men, John feels that he is fighting for freedom, democracy, and for what is right. He isn’t long in the battlefield before he starts rejecting these ideas however. Numbed by the horror of what he sees and does, John comes to accept that he is fighting to stay alive and to keep his comrades in arms alive. When it is all over an exhausted and much older John goes home to find that he has very little in common with the people who did not fight. How can they possibly understand what he went through? There is only one person whom he feels would comprehend what has happened to him – Ginny.

Fifty years later John sits down to write his story. His words reflect the heartbreak and suffering that he has had to endure and readers are left with no illusions about what it is like to be an infantry soldier in the front lines. You will cringe as John tells you some of what he saw and did, and you will grieve with him for the loss of his youth and innocence, which quickly disappears on the battlefields of Europe.

This truly remarkable book is compelling, profoundly moving, and often disturbing. Cynthia Rylant gets inside the mind and heart of this likeable young man, helping her readers see his world through his eyes. Evocative imagery flows through this beautifully written story and John’s observations about himself and his world are full of wisdom and power.