Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Dark Unwinding

The Dark Unwinding

Sharon Cameron
For ages 13 and up
Scholastic Press, 2012   ISBN: 978-0545327862

For seventeen years Katharine Tulman’s life has been rather grim. Her mother died soon after she was born, and her father died not long after. Since then, Katharine has been living with her Aunt Alice, her dead uncle’s wife, who is a truly dreadful human being. She treats Katharine like a servant, and makes sure the young woman knows that her aunt can turn her out whenever she wishes. Knowing all too well that this threat hangs over her head, Katharine does her best to please her aunt.

One day Aunt Alice announces that someone in the family needs to visit Uncle Frederick Tulman to confirm that the old man is insane. Aunt Alice is convinced that Uncle Frederick is spending what she considers to be her son Robert’s inheritance and she wants to put a stop to it. Since Robert is “an idiot” who is easily led, Katharine hopes that when Aunt Alice is no longer around, she, Katharine, might be able to create an “independent world” for herself, perhaps with an income that will allow her to have a little freedom at least. Katharine decides that she has to make sure that Robert gets his inheritance, so that she can have some financial security.

When she gets to the Stranwyne, the Tulman estate, she discovers all kinds of strange things. The house is being neglected terribly, but the rest of the estate is being carefully cared for. Uncle Frederick is without a doubt rather odd, some might even call him mad, but he is also a genius. He has built all kinds of wondrous clockwork devices and machines. Without meaning to, Katharine grows fond of the old man, and she is one of the few people who can make him change his routine and moderate his more eccentric behavior.

To support Uncle Frederick’s work and to keep him happy, the family lawyer has built a community on the estate, providing jobs and homes for people who used to be in workhouses. The lawyer hopes that the estate will be able to pay back all the money that has been spent and become fully self sufficient in five years time. He asks Katharine to help him to hold off Aunt Alice for those five years.

Katharine finds that she no longer feels sure about having Uncle Frederick sent to an insane asylum. He is sweet and harmless, and creates incredible devices. The estate is now home to many people who will lose their homes and jobs if Uncle Frederick is taken away. Though the decision is a painful one, Katharine decides that she cannot put her needs first, she will have to do whatever she can to safeguard the secrets at Stranwyne, even if that means being thrown out into the street by Aunt Alice.

Trying to find a way to protect Uncle Frederick and Stranwyne is hard enough, but then other things start to happen that make life even more complicated. Katharine starts behaving very strangely, which terrifies her. Could she have inherited her uncle’s eccentricity?

In this remarkable novel the author not only gives her readers a setting that is full of secrets and surprises, but she also explores Katharine’s inner struggles. We see how the young woman changes over time, shifting from being a stiff and self-centered person, to become a person who is patient, caring, and willing to give up a chance at happiness to save the people she cares about.