Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Charlotte Agell
For ages 12 and up
Henry Holt , 2008   ISBN: 978-0805097429

Adrian Havoc is old enough that he remembers a time when birds and other wild animals were commonplace. He remembers going to the family cabin in Maine with his parents and little sister in the summer. He hasn’t forgotten how they used to canoe on a lake, and how they would stop at eating establishments to buy lobster rolls and other treats.

   Ever since the Disaster, a nuclear attack that laid waste to the state of Massachusetts and that left the country torn apart, Adrian’s life has been miserable. So many of the things that Adrian used to take for granted - such as animals, beautiful places, and safety - are now gone. His father has been missing for five years and they have had no word from him. Adrian and his family members have to accept the new rules imposed by the government of the United Christian States. Church and State are no longer separate, and laws and security measures are brutally enforced by HomeState soldiers. Among other things, citizens have to watch mandatory religious speeches, and they are not allowed to talk or learn about evolution.

   Adrian is determined that he is not going to go to the mandatory Vacation Bible School and by sheer happenstance he manages to avoid it. One day, eager to stay away from home, Adrian ends up spending the night at the zoo, his little sister’s favorite place. He goes to sleep in the building where one solitary penguin is housed, which is how he meets Lenora. Lenora is a zoo employee who refuses to let the zoo vet euthanize the penguin. Instead, she plans on taking the bird north, to Maine, and setting him free.

   Without really planning to do so, Adrian ends up joining Lenora. He tells Lenora about his family cabin; the coastline there should be perfect for the penguin. Together Lenora and Adrian drive across the Deadlands, a toxic wasteland that was once covered with towns and fertile farms. They get to Maine and stop to visit Shriek, Adrian’s little sister, who is at summer camp. The camp is not any fun, so Shriek decides to join Adrian and Lenora. She is particularly fond of the penguin and wants to help set him free.

   When they get to Maine, the young people and Shriek let the penguin go, and then they accidentally get separated. Adrian has no idea where Lenora and his sister are and he has some very uncomfortable and fear-filled hours before he decides to go to the family cabin. There he finds not only Lenora and Shriek, but also someone else, someone who tells them that the regime, and not terrorists, is responsible for the Disaster. Not only that, but the regime plans on taking advantage of the coming Shift to do things that will give them even more control over the people.

   In this powerful novel we meet a young boy who is quite ordinary except for the fact that he refuses to be told what to do. Instead, he seeks out a better life and in the process he learns a lot about himself and what real belief is. In addition he decides to risk everything to protect everyone’s rights to be free to think and believe what they wish.