Published by HarperTeen on August 14, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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GIRLS IN TROUBLE.
That’s what Sylvie Blake’s older sister Julia renamed their favorite fairy tale book, way back when they were just girls themselves. Now, Julia has disappeared—and no one knows if she’s in trouble.
Sylvie is trying to carry on Julia’s impressive legacy at the prestigious National Ballet Theatre Academy, but Julia, ever the star of the show, can’t stay hidden forever. And when she sends Sylvie a copy of their old storybook with a mysterious list inside, Sylvie begins to see signs of her sister everywhere she goes. She may be losing her grip on reality, but Sylvie has to find out if the strange, almost magical things she’s been seeing have anything to do with Julia’s whereabouts.
With the help of her best friend’s enigmatic brother and his beat-up car, Sylvie sets out to the beat of a Fleetwood Mac playlist, determined to return to New York with her sister in tow. But what Sylvie doesn’t expect to learn is that trouble comes in lots of forms—and that the damsel in distress is often the only one who can save herself.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Going into The Looking Glass, I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect. I knew it featured some of my very favorite things– ballerinas, a road trip, hints of magic, and Fleetwood Mac. However, I didn’t expect the beautiful writing or how much of a hidden gem it would be.
The story follows our protagonist, Sylvie Blake, as she tries to both process her sister Julia’s year-long disappearance and uphold Julia’s impressive legacy at the prestigious ballet school she attends. On her birthday, Sylvie receives mail from Julia– the first anyone has heard from her in a year. Julia has sent her a book of fairytales beloved by both of the sisters as children. Sylvie finds a drawing in the back of the book, presumably made by Julia, and sets off to find her older sister, using the drawing as a road map.
Sylvie’s road trip companion is her best friend’s older brother, and naturally, a romance develops between the two of them. However, romance takes a backseat to other, more important themes in The Looking Glass. This is a story about family, about fairytales (and the fairytales we create about the people we love), about signs from the universe– or, at least, the things we perceive as signs from the universe.
I LOVE books about ballerinas and ballet schools (see also: Tiny Pretty Things; First Position), so I loved reading about Sylvie’s and Julia’s experiences as ballerinas. The almost-otherwordly perception of ballet as an art form and of the ballerinas who perform it fit perfectly with the fairytale-like quality of The Looking Glass.
Speaking of fairytales, this book is chock-full of fairytales coming to life. It’s a modern fairytale in its own right, set against the backdrop of New York City. I’m not big on fairytales and retellings, but I thought the way McNally incorporated these elements into the book was brilliantly done. As frequent readers of the blog probably have noticed, I’ve been on a fabulism and magical realism kick recently, and this book was the perfect, magical read. McNally’s lyrical, lovely writing definitely contributed to the atmosphere and magic of The Looking Glass. I’m intrigued to go back and pick up her debut now, because I found her writing so immersive and compulsively readable.
Also, it’s worth mentioning: if you’re a Fleetwood Mac fan, you HAVE to pick this one up. Fleetwood Mac is the soundtrack of Sylvie’s roadtrip, and every chapter is named after one of their songs. Once again, this was a brilliant choice because all of the mystique and intrigue surrounding the band (and their legendary frontwoman, Stevie Nicks), felt like the perfect fit for such an ethereal story.
Overall, The Looking Glass is a book that absolutely deserves more hype and attention. It offers wonderful commentary on the stories we craft about real people and whether people really need to be “saved.” Plus, ballerinas! Road trip romances! Great music references! If you enjoy your contemporaries with a side of beautiful writing and magical elements, you must pick this one up.
Have you read The Looking Glass? If not, did I convince you to pick it up?