Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Sean Williams
For ages 12 and up
HarperColins, 2013   ISBN: 978-0062203212

Clair lives in a world where people no longer use vehicles to get from place to place. Instead, they use d-mat booths to get around. When a person enters a booth their unique “pattern” is recorded and then they are dematerialized. In a booth at their desired destination their pattern is used to rebuild them and the person is, in theory, exactly the same. It is in fact illegal to change ones pattern and special artificial intelligences (AIs) make sure that pattern integrity is maintained. The company that created d-mat, VIA, also watches over the d-mat booths.

   In addition to d-mat booths, other changes have taken place on Earth. Solar power is supplied via satellites and food, clothes and other supplies are made in fabbers. In this new world people don’t use computers, the Internet, and phones. Now there is a worldwide wireless form of the Internet called the Air and everyone connects to it using special contact lenses in their eyes and tubes in their ears. Both the lenses and the tubes are permanent.

   Though most people on Earth are happy to use d-mat, fabbers, and the Air, there are some people, Stainers (another name for Abstainers), who think that such technology is dangerous. They get around using green vehicles, grow their own food, and steadfastly refuse to have anything to do with d-mat. There are even some Stainers who think that something radical needs to be done to end the use of d-mat technology. They have formed a “terrorist” group called WHOLE (World Holistic Leadership) and many people, including Claire, think they are crazy.

   Clair lives in Maine with her mother and stepfather. Her best friend, Libby, lives in Sweden, but thanks to d-mat, distances are now meaningless. Clair and Libby have been best friends forever, which is why Clair starts to worry about Libby when Libby decides to try out Improvement. Improvement is a “meme” that promises to ‘improve’ a person. All you have to do is to write down what you want improved on a piece of paper and then carry that piece of paper when you use d-mat. Libby has a birthmark on her face that she is very self-conscious about and she wants Improvement to remove it.

   Clair and her friends all think that Improvement is just a silly hoax, and then Clair notices that Libby is behaving very strangely. For a while Libby refuses to see Clair, and then Clair catches a glimpse of Libby during an online chat and she sees that the birthmark is gone. Could Improvement actually work?

   When Libby really goes off the rails Clair decides to talk to Jesse Linwood, a Stainer who goes to her school. She thinks that he, being a Stainer, might have heard about Improvement and might be able to tell her if it is something that she needs to worry about. It turns out that Jesse’s father, Dylan Linwood, is the person to talk to and he ends up looking into Improvement to see what he can find out about it. What he learns is not good. Apparently,  at least nine teens who used Improvement have died in the last few months. All of them committed suicide a week after they used Improvement. Dylan tries to get the principal at Clair’s school to take the threat seriously, but she pays no attention to him and he leaves the school in a fury, with Clair, Jesse, and Clair’s friend Zep following in his wake.

   Soon after the teens are in front of the Linwood house and Dylan is standing in the doorway when the whole house explodes. Zep is badly injured and Clair and Jesse are woozy and shaken. A neighbor takes the three to another house, which is where Clair meets some members of WHOLE. After hearing what the WHOLE members have to say, Clair decides that she has had enough and she heads for home, which is where she finds out that someone has taken her parents prisoner. They want her parents to insist that Clair comes home.

   Soon Clair and Jesse are on the run. They are being pursued by an unknown enemy who seems to be linked to Improvement in some way. They soon learn that this enemy is making dupes, duplicates, of people using d-mat. Stored patterns of people are used to make the bodies and then someone else’s mind is installed in the dupe’s brain. The enemy is sending the duplicates out to hunt down Clair, Jesse, and the members of WHOLE the teens are cooperating with. One of the dupes is Dylan, and Clair is forced to kill him more than once, which is both terrible and surreal. Somehow Clair has to contact VIA to tell them that dupes are being made and that d-mat is being used in unethical ways. Somehow she has to do this before it is too late to save Libby.

   In this exciting novel the author keeps us on our toes, revealing new information at just the right times and surprising us over and over again. It is interesting to see how the characters change over time as they are influenced by the people and circumstances that they encounter. Readers who enjoy futuristic adventures will greatly enjoy this book.