The Looking Glas
THE LOOKING GLASS by Janet McNally is a young adult novel set in the highly competitive world of aspiring New York City ballerinas. The book begins on Sylvie’s birthday when she gets a mysterious gift from her sister, Julia, who’s been missing for a year. Believing this is a call for help, Sylvie decides to go in search of her to bring her home to safety. Jack, her unlikely ally and best friend’s older brother, is her chauffeur, and together they set off on a road trip, following what Sylvie believes to be a map drawn for her by Julia. Unsure of how to fully decode the map, Sylvie charges ahead like a prince on a white horse.
This contemporary setting is peppered with fantastical elements, blending genres with magical realism. Most of the otherworldly flourishes are cognizant woodland creatures and princess-like girls. When they appear, Sylvie, at first, thinks she’s losing her mind, but then, she believes they are trying to lead her towards her sister. After all, Julia’s gift to Sylvie is a fairytale book from their childhood. These moments definitely make the story unique, but they oftentimes feel forced, as though the author wants them there, as opposed to them needing to be there for story. These small escapes from reality occasionally drive the plot forward, but overall, they distract from the real substance. The book, on a whole, would have been stronger without them.
I love how McNally crafts Sylvie’s world so much, which is why I missed it when she strayed. The life of a training ballerina is so intriguing. From the ballet instructor’s quirks and sayings to how Sylvie saved her first three sets of pointe shoes, these behind-the-scenes details make the setting lush, elaborate, and easy to imagine. How McNally portrays New York City is also accurate and a nice glimpse into how the wealthy live. Though I must contest Ocean City, New Jersey smelling like anything other than fresh salt air, the rest of the road trip destinations are described well and make me feel like I'm along for the ride.
Occasionally, Sylvie breaks the fourth wall, so to speak, by being aware of the audience and addressing them directly. Every time this happens, I am completely throw off, because it’s not carried on throughout the novel in a consistent fashion.
With that being said, I love the blossoming romance between Sylvie and Jack so much. I root for them Mac after Mac song, and I really enjoy that the book ends in a way that feels like real life. The characters break through some serious traumas, and though there is a light at the end of the tunnel, more difficulties still lay ahead.
THE LOOKING GLASS is a great book for those needing to find a little magic in their day-to-day lives.