Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

January 1905: A Novel

January 1905: A Novel

Katharine Boling
For ages 10 and up
Harcourt, 2006   ISBN: 978-0152051211

Pauline and Arlene are identical twins and they cannot stand one another. Six days a week Pauline and the rest of her family go to work in the cotton mill, on their feet for hour after hour in sweltering rooms full of swirling lint. While they are gone, Arlene, who has a misshapen foot and cannot do the mill work very well, stays at home to do all the cooking, cleaning, and washing. Each girl thinks the other has the better life. Arlene wishes she could go to the factory where she could at least make some friends and be around other people. Pauline wishes she could stay home and take things easy. What neither girl realizes is that they both work very hard, they both have to deal with isolation every day, and they both have a hard life.

Then, one day, after a child is badly injured by the machines in the mill, Arlene is asked to work in the mill until the boy is able to work again. Arlene discovers that working in a mill is not as exciting as she thought it would be, and Pauline realizes that her annoying sister has hidden depths and a kind heart.

Many of us go through life thinking that the grass is always greener someplace else just as the two young women in this story do. Pauline and Arlene are given the opportunity to see that things are not always what they seem, and they might not be as badly off as they thought they were. They also discover that when all else fails, they have each other.

Written from the point of view of both the girls we are able to see how two people who are very close can see things very differently. We cannot help wishing, as we share the resentment and the anger that they feel for one another, that they would just take the time to get to know one another. The story is set in a time when children had to work in dangerous factories for very little money and when there were no laws to protect them from exploitation. It captures the difficulties that poor families faced as they simply tried to survive in a world that did not care about them. Beautifully written and often quite disturbing, this is a book that truly takes the reader back in time.