Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Karen Hesse
For ages 13 and up
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Jenna Lamia
Macmillan Young Listeners, 2012   ISBN: 978-1427227201

Radley is in Haiti volunteering at an orphanage when the political situation in the United States falls apart. The American Political Party has seized control and the president has been assassinated. When she hears about the assassination, Radley decides that she needs to be back in Vermont with her parents.

   The United States she comes home to is nothing like the one she left. Martial law is in place and armed military personnel are everywhere. When Radley gets to Manchester, New Hampshire, her parents are not there at the airport waiting for her. She has no money, no working cell phone, and there are numerous new laws in place that are frightening. Even when she does manage to call home, no one answers. Radley finds out that she cannot take a bus because she does not have “prior government approval” to cross state lines. How on earth is so supposed to get to Bratteboro in Vermont? There is only one thing she can do: she is going to have to walk.

   Not having any money, Radley has to accept the food people give her, and she has to take what she can find in dumpsters. She gets cold and wet, and at night she has to be careful not be to seen by anyone. The authorities would arrest her for breaking the mandatory curfew, and there are gangs of thugs going around mugging and robbing people. One night she even overhears some poor soul being beaten up, and all she can do is to hope that she isn’t next.

   Finally Radley makes it to Brattleboro and when she walks into her house she finds out that her parents are not there. Nothing is missing, except them and the family cat. For a while Radley stays in the house, hiding every time the police come by. She is convinced that her parents have been arrested and that the police are now after her.

   Eventually she decides that they are not coming home, not while the current regime is in power. She decides to go to Canada, to take refuge there. Her parents may even be there already. Carefully she packs a backpack and sets off, again taking care not to be seen, and avoiding the kinds of places that would attract people who might harm her.

   As she walks, Radley sees that another girl is making her way north, following the same route that she is taking. They cross paths briefly a few times, but keep their distance. Then one day the girl’s dog comes up to Radley and he makes it clear that he wants Radley to follow him. He leads Radley to his mistress, the girl, who is gravely ill. Radley immediately sets about doing everything she can to take care of the ill girl. What else can she do?

   In this extraordinary novel Karen Hesse tells the story of a girl who goes from having a charmed life to having nothing. Without any warning, Radley’s life is turned upside down. She has to learn to take care of herself for the first time in her life, and then she has to learn how to take care of someone else. It is fascinating to see how she rises to the challenge, how she deals with situations that are appalling. Listeners will be moved as they ‘watch’ Radley grow and change. Her journey is one full of pain, suffering, hope, and promise.