Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Gordon Korman
For ages 8 to 12
HarperCollins, 2015   ISBN: 978-0062299963

Eli Friedman, his friend Randy, and twenty-eight other children live in the town of Serenity, New Mexico. The small town (population one hundred and eighty-five) is, in the opinion of the adults, perfect. There is no crime, no poverty, and no unemployment, and every resident has a nice home and all the comforts that they could possibly want. The one thing that Serenity lacks, in Randy’s opinion, are things to do. He is bored and so he suggests that he and Eli ride their bikes beyond the town boundary. Not long ago Randy and his father found a vintage car in an abandoned building and he wants to show it to Eli.

   Eli has never left Serenity before and he feels “kind of scared.” It is strange to be “Somewhere Else” for the first time in his life. Soon after he rides his bike past the town sign, Eli starts to feel sick; really sick. His head pounds, he is nauseous, and he collapses. Through a haze of pain and misery Eli realizes that the Surety, the security force for the Serenity Plastics Works, has arrived. He and Randy are bundled in a helicopter and Eli is taken to hospital.

   Soon after this bit of drama, Randy tells Eli that he is being sent to Colorado to live with his grandparents. They are getting old and frail and need help on the farm. On the day of his departure, Randy tells Eli that he will write to him, but then Eli does get any mail from Randy at all. Eli eventually realizes that Randy’s words were a clue, and he searches the places where they used to hang out until he finds what he is looking for: a letter from Randy.

   In the letter, Randy explains that he is not being sent to his grandparent’s farm. Instead he is being sent to a boarding school, and once he is there that he will not be allowed to get in touch. He also says that he believes that Eli and some of the other kids in Serenity are “special,” that something in Serenity is “screwy” and that is why he is being sent away. Eli is confused by this letter. Randy never lied to him when it mattered and he finds it hard to believe that what Randy says in the letter is untrue, and yet, surely, it cannot be true.

   One night there is an electrical storm and a website that Eli was looking at for information about American history does something strange. It changes. One minute he is reading that the Boston Tea Party was a civil gathering of American and British leaders, and the next he is learning that it was an act of civil disobedience and that soon after the tea party took place the American Revolutionary War broke out. Eli has never heard of this war before and he cannot believe what he is reading. Then, suddenly, the website changes again and presents Eli with the version of history that he grew up learning about.

   That night Eli shows his father the letter from Randy and the next thing he knows he is being told that he is sick again. The town doctor gives Eli’s father some pills, which he makes sure Eli takes. What Eli’s father does not know is that Eli hides the pills in his check instead of swallowing them, and he therefore does not forget about Randy’s letter, which is what Eli’s father and the doctor clearly want.

   When he returns to school Eli teams up with Malik, Tory and Hector to try to find out what is going on. The children come to realize that everything they have been told has been a lie, that the people they have trusted all their lives are harboring secrets. This is a terrible blow for young people who have always been taught to be honest, truthful and open. They need to get inside the Plastics Works to find out just how ‘screwy’ Serenity really is.

   This amazing book is perfectly paced, building in tension as Eli, Tory, Hector, and the other children discover the truth about their town and their lives, and as they try to figure out what they should do about the incredibly difficult situation they have been put in. The chapters alternate between the characters so that we get to see things through several different pairs of eyes, which gives us a wonderful insight into the feelings reactions of Eli and his friends. Readers will be eager to find out if children who have been living in a controlled environment all their lives will be able to truly be who they are.