Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Guardians

The Guardians

John Christopher
For ages 10 to 12
Simon and Schuster, 2014   ISBN: 978-1481418348

The year is 2053 and in England the country has been divided into two parts. Most of the people live in the Conurb, a packed, busy megalopolis where new technologies are embraced, and where people are always in a hurry to be doing something or going somewhere. Then there is the County. Here aristocrats live in country houses, are taken care of servants, and the pace of life is much slower. People get around using horses, they read print books, sew, hunt, and enjoy genteel pursuits such as garden parties and balls. The people in the County live by a strict code of conduct, and it is very important to remember what is considered “customary.” These two worlds are kept strictly apart, with both groups of people despising the other. Only Commuters cross from one side to the other.

   Rob has lived in the Conurb all his life. His father is an electrician at the stadium where the Games takes place. Rob’s mother died of cancer when he was just a little boy and he does not know much about her. When Rob’s father is electrocuted at work and killed, Rob looks through his mother’s things and finds out that his mother came from the County. Later, after he is put into a boarding school where he is bullied and beaten up, he begins to wonder if maybe he might be better off if he went to live in County. He likes spending time on his own, which most Conurbs hate, so maybe County life would suit him better.

   Rob runs away from the school, manages to get under the fence that separates the Conurb from the County, and finds himself in a place where there is quiet, a night sky full of stars, and wild animals he knows nothing about.  Rob is soon filthy, exhausted, and hungry, and his feet are covered with blisters. Luckily a local County boy, Mike, finds Rob and takes him to an old bunker. Then he brings Rob food, clothes, a bed and everything else that he feels the Conurb boy needs to be reasonably comfortable.

   Mike’s mother finds out soon enough what is going on and she decides to take Rob in, creating a false identity for him so that the authorities don’t come sniffing around. Rob is taught the ways of the County, he goes to a boarding school with Mike, and he grows to like the life that he has been given.

   Then one night at school Mike takes Rob to a meeting where a young man starts talking about how the people in the County don’t have their freedom. According to him their lives are a sham and they are conditioned to accept their roles. You are either a member of the gentry or you are a servant, and you are expected to play your part per the rules. You are supposed to think that the nineteenth century way of life in the County is perfect the way it is, and you should never try to rock the boat. Apparently the young man, Mike, and others are tired of this status quo. They want to stir things up.

   Rob is reluctant to join their cause. He likes his new life and does not see what the problem is. He never considers that perhaps what he sees in County life is indeed a lie that has been created to hide an ugly truth.

   This memorable book explores some very thought-provoking issues that are timeless. It is interesting to see how Rob struggles with the choices he is presented with, and how he responds when he begins to understand what is really going on around him.