Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



John Newman
For ages 9 to 12
Candlewick Press, 2011   ISBN: 978-0763654153

One hundred and forty-nine days ago Mimi’s mother died. Mimi, her father, and her older siblings, Conor and Sally, are all having a very hard time adjusting to their loss. Mimi’s dad spends his days either sleeping or lying on the sofa watching the TV. Every evening he prepares frozen pizza for his children, and every evening he manages to burn the pizza so that it is pretty much inedible. For the most part the children subsist on the sweets they get from Ms. Lemon’s shop and the cakes and other food that their relatives give them.

   The unhealthy eating habits of the children are the tip of the iceberg. Mimi and her siblings are not living what anyone would consider to be a healthy or normal life. Mimi is often late to school, and most of the time she doesn’t bother doing her homework at all. Her teacher, Ms. Addle, does not seem to mind that Mimi is always late and that she is not doing her assigned homework. Mimi coasts along coping as best she can and wishing all the time that Mammy was still there. She secretly reads Sally’s diary and knows that her sister is also struggling.

   Eventually the completely dysfunctional situation in Mimi’s family starts to unravel. It begins when Ms. Addle goes on maternity leave. Her replacement is appalled that Mimi has been allowed to get away with so much for so long. She demands that Mimi get to school on time and that she does her homework. The teacher gets together with Mimi’s dad and gives him a talking to. Then the dentist gives Dad a talking to as well because Mimi, Sally, and Conor’s teeth are in a terrible state because no one is making sure that they brush their teeth and eat healthy food. In fact Mimi’s dad gets lectured by everybody, and for the first time since his wife’s death he becomes aware of the fact that he cannot afford to indulge in his grief. His children need him. Dad is just beginning to get things sorted out when the dark secret that Sally mentioned in her diary is brought to light and everyone is shocked by it. When Sally runs away Mimi starts to feel as if her life is never going to be normal again.

   In this sometimes funny, sometimes painful story, John Newman takes us into a family home, allowing us to see how the members of that family struggle to come to terms with a terrible loss. Grief takes many forms and it is interesting to see how Mimi, her father, and her siblings behave, each of them trying in his or her own way to get through each day. We see how Mimi’s father has to be forced out of his lethargy and how he and his children start rebuilding their lives after they hit rock bottom. The story is both powerful and uplifting, and it ends in such a way that we dare to hope that Mimi and her family will prevail after all.