Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Erin Bowman
For ages 14 and up
HarperCollins, 2013   ISBN: 978-0062117267

Eighteen years ago today Gray’s brother, Blaine, was born in Claysoot, the little village where the brothers have spent their entire lives. Now, in just a few hours, the Heist will take Blaine from the village and Gray will no longer have any family members left. Gray’s father was taken by the Heist when he was eighteen, and his mother died of pneumonia a few years ago. Gray wishes that there was another option. If only he and his brother could run away, but there is nowhere to run to. Claysoot is surrounded by the Wall, and anyone who climbs it returns as a corpse.

   That night, nor surprisingly, Blaine is taken by the Heist, disappearing in a flash of bright light. Not long after, Gray discovers a letter that his mother wrote to Blaine just before she died. She clearly felt that there was something about Clayroot that is “unnatural” and she mentions a secret that she feels she cannot share with Gray. The incomplete letter ends with the words “Gray is, in fact - ” The rest of the letter is missing. What was his mother going to say next?

   Gray sets about trying to find the answer. He asks his friend Emma to let him look at the Clinic records for information about his mother, himself and his brother. Emma’s mother is in charge at the Clinic and Emma helps her there. Emma lets Gray see the records, but there is nothing there that offers Gray any new information. Then Emma lets him see her mother’s personal records, and Gray sees a note about his mother that changes his life. It reads “Year 29, June 23: gives birth to twin boys (Blaine and Gray Weathersby), both healthy.” If he and Blaine are twins then why wasn’t Gray taken by the Heist when his brother was?

   Gray decides that the only thing he can do is to leave Clayroot to try to find out the truth. He knows that the Wall might burn him, but he goes anyway, and Emma follows. On the other side they find a world not unlike the one they left. There is no monster there that will burn them and they take refuge in an abandoned building. There they are found by some men take them in a car to a city called Taem, a city that is protected by a huge dome.

   Gray and Emma are taken to the leader of the settlement, a man called Frank. He explains that a rogue scientist called Harvey Aldroon created Claysoot after the Second Civil War. Claysoot was part of an experiment called the Laicos Project. Frank explains that he is trying to find and capture Harvey so that the people of Claysoot can be saved. Unfortunately, he is very busy trying to save his part of the country, AmEast, from his enemies in AmWest. Maintaining law and order in AmEast and fighting against rebels also takes up a lot of his time. Frank says that he has no way of stopping Harvey from controlling the people of Claysoot, but he hopes to capture Harvey soon.

   At first Gray and Emma are eager to believe what they are told, but then they witness an execution in the street, an execution that seems wrong. They decide to look around, to see if they can find out more information. They manage to get into a meeting room where some documents are lying on a long table. The documents reveal things that make the teenagers even more uneasy about Frank and his regime. Could it be that the rebels and Harvey are the victims in this story? Before they can go any further Gray and Emma are caught and separated and Gray is told that he is going to be executed.

   Desperate to survive, Gray manages to escape from Taem in the back of a military vehicle. He has to find Harvey, he has to find out the truth about Claysoot, Frank, and himself.

    This carefully crafted story is perfectly paced and full of surprising plot twists that keep readers on their toes. Just when Gray’s life finds a new equilibrium, something happens that disrupts everything, something that leaves him reeling and exposed to new dangers.