Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Celia Rees
For ages 15
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Jennifer Wiltsie
Listening Library (Audio), 2007   ISBN: 978-0739339053

Nancy Kington is the daughter of a Brighton shipping businessman, a merchant and a man of means. He owns a plantation in Jamaica, a ‘factory’ for the processing of sugar cane, and a fleet of ships. He buys and sells all sorts of goods from different parts of the world and for many years Nancy has a free and reasonably happy life. Nancy’s father also buys and sells humans, slaves from Africa, but this is something his daughter never thought much about until her father dies suddenly. With his death comes financial ruin and great change in Nancy’s life. She is sent to Jamaica, to the plantation which is now hers, and suddenly the question of slavery becomes a very real one to this fair-skinned girl from Bristol.

Nancy’s father not only left the plantation to Nancy, he also left her with a terrible future. Before he died, he promised her in marriage to a frightening and cruel man called Bartholome, a Brazilian plantation owner who lives in Jamaica and who has a shadowy and dark past. One dreadful night Nancy finds herself caught up series of desperate and violent events. Nancy and a slave girl called Minerva decide to flee to the hills; one from a marriage she cannot imagine herself in, and the other from certain death.

What follows is the journey that these two girls make, always fleeing from the terrifying Bartholome who seeks them out. They soon find themselves on a pirate ship, “on account,” in other words, they become part of the ship’s company. Soon Minerva and Nancy are pirates in every way, fighting and eating alongside the men, sharing in the labor and in the winnings. Minerva fits in well with the life at sea, but Nancy feels always that there is something else that she needs to make her happy.

Written with extraordinary insight into the human heart, and a displaying a thorough understanding of the times, this story is incredibly compelling. Fast paced, exciting, and full of unexpected twists and turns in the plot, we are carried forward, hoping that Nancy will find what she is looking for, and that she will not have to give up on her dreams. Often brutal, cruel, and harsh, hers was a world where it was easy to get lost in the fight for survival. The author does not gloss over the reality of this world, and the facts can often be both shocking and very moving. The misery that slavery caused to hundreds of people cannot be forgotten, and through Nancy’s story, their story is given a face and a reality. Truly, this superb title cannot be too highly recommended.

Jennifer Wiltsie’s narrative adds another dimension to the characters in the tale, giving their personalities a spark of life that will keep listeners engaged throughout.