Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Alexandra Duncan
For ages 14 and up
HarperCollins, 2014   ISBN: 978-0062220141

Centuries ago a group of people got tired of living on Earth and they set off to build what they felt would be freer lives in space. Ava has lived on the Parastrata, a long range merchant ship, all her life. Now she is sixteen and, as the captain’s eldest daughter, she is the ship’s so girl. Ava is supposed to set a good example for the other girls and she helps them to learn how to behave with modesty and how to do their chores properly.

   In a day’s time the Parastrata will be docking at a skyport near Earth. Ava is working with the livestock when her stepmother, Modrie Reller, comes to get her.  Modrie Reller dyes Ava’s hair red and explains that the next day, when they dock at Bhutto station, Ava will meet the man who is going to be her husband. He is a member of the Aether crewe and Ava’s marriage to him will solidify trade agreements between the two crewes. Modrie Reller does not tell Ava who her husband is going to be, but Ava imagines he will be Luck, the son and heir of the Aether’s captain. She prays it will be Luck because she has met him before and likes him a great deal.

   The next day Ava and a group of men and women go on board the Aether. Discussions take place, meals are eaten, and then Ava goes to the women’s quarters to sleep. Feeling hot and restless, she decides to explore the Aether, which will soon be her new home. She discovers a garden, and there, among the lemon trees she meets Luck. The pair go for a swim in the Aether’s desalination pool. Knowing that she and Luck will be married the next day, she allows him to make love to her. Soon after, the pair are discovered by two Night Fixes and they are dragged in front of Luck’s father. To her horror Ava learns that she was pledged to the captain and not to Luck. For young people to do what they did before marriage is unforgiveable, and Ava stands by while Luck is beaten. Then she is taken back to the Parastrata. After spending a night locked in a utility closet, Ava is prepared for burial by the other women. She realizes that the plan is to send her out into the Void alive, to kill her.  Then women then carry Ava to the coldroom and lock her in there.

   Thankfully, before Ava can freeze, her friend Iri comes to save her. Together the girls escape onto the station, trying to outrun the men from the Parastrata. They need to find a way to get Ava away from her family before it is too late. Iri knows someone “groundways,” someone on Earth. It turns out that Ava’s mother had a sister, a doctor; perhaps she will take Ava in. Iri knowns that Ava’s aunt is in Mumbai and so the girls try to find a passenger ferry that will take Ava there. In the end, despertate, they try to persuade a captain, a woman,who has a mail sloop, to take Ava groundways. When the men from the Parastrata appear in the station’s passenger tier, the sloop’s captain sees that Ava is in trouble and she quickly takes the girl on board and pilots her ship away from the station.

   Ava has never been planetside before, and when they arrive on Earth her body is wracked by terrible pain because it is not used to Earth’s gravity. For months Ava stays with the captain, Perpetue, and her daughter Miyole. They take care of Ava until she is finally able to get around by herself. Miyole starts to teach Ava how to read, which is something the girls and women on Ava’s ship are not allowed to do. Then Perpetue teaches Ava how the sloop works and how to fly it. Ava’s fondness for Fixes, which she was never allowed to do on the Parastrata, comes in handy and she grows to like her life with Perpetua and Miyole.

   Eventually it is time for Ava to try to find out where her aunt lives. She knows her aunt’s name and that she is a doctor in Mumbai, but Mumbai is a huge city. She needs an address and so, when Perpetua goes back to Bhutto station, Ava uses a computer there to find out where her aunt is. She never imagines that soon her life will be turned upside down once again and she will have to rely on herself in many new ways.

   This extraordinary book will take readers into a future that is both familiar and unfamiliar. Certain aspects of the narrative are painful, but it is fascinating to see how Ava adapts to her changing circumstances and how she comes to understand what it is she wants out of life.