Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
The Girl in the Mirror
by Jenny Blackford
ISBN: 9780648194521, October 2019, RRP $17.99, 153 pp
Jenny Blackford is one of the most multi-genre author I know. She’s written short stories, had two books of poetry published, a historical novella, and even murder mysteries. Her new book The Girl in the Mirror, is targeted at middle grade (12 and 13 year old) readers, though it has a broad enough appeal for older readers and is gentle enough for younger strong readers too. The book features two protagonists, Clarissa and Maddy, whose point of view is the focus of alternative chapters. Clarissa lives in 1899 and Maddy is contemporary, but the two girls become connected through a magic mirror when Maddy moves to a new home.
Maddy is having a hard time at her new school, where she is teased and ostracised, and although she’s shocked to find that the mirror is a conduit, she’s also delighted to have a new friend. Clarissa’s mother is ill, having never recovered after the whooping cough death of her twin sisters and younger brother Bertie, now a benign ghost that moves between the two timeframes. The two girls begin a friendship that ends up being more than just pleasurable and informative for the two of them, it is critical in the lives of Clarissa’s mother and Maddy’s younger brother Cory.
Blackford’s prose is silky smooth and the book reads quickly, driven by its fantasy narrative and the way in which historical detail is covered. Though the story has paranormal overtones, shifting as it does between the two narrative timeframes, and featuring a shapeshifting villain and ghosts that move between worlds, The Girl in the Mirror is relevant to a 21st century reader. Of particular appeal is the way Blackford explores the differing mores and norms between the two young women – from Maddy’s scandalously short skirts, to Clarissa’s household duties and restrictions. Maddy and Clarissa are likeable and well-drawn protagonists whose quantum entanglement is handled perfectly, and feels natural. Blackford’s love of sensual detail is evident as she takes us through Maddy’s garden:
Maddy was already feeling wary when she removed another mass of dead leaves and weedy vines, and unearthed some pretty hooded flowers on metre-high bushes growing next to the Deadly Nightshades. This time she looked them up before she touched them. And just as well! The leaves were divided like daisies’, but these definitely weren’t cheerful little daisies. They were Aconite, or Wolf’s Bane, which meant they could kill wolves. (82)
The way in which the present and the past are intertwined is intriguing, and readers will be drawn into the story and the way in which it plays out. There is plenty of humour, suspense, and history:
…this was 1899, after all, an enlightened, scientific age. They had running water in the kitchen and Father was even talking about getting modern gas lighting installed in the house. (28)
The Girl in the Mirror is a delightful book for readers of all ages and can also be read to younger children as it isn’t too scary and the overall theme is a positive one. Fiona McDonald’s lovely ink illustrations add a lovely touch to the text. I particularly like the little funnel webs at the bottom of some of the pages. The Girl in the Mirror would make a great gift for a young reader, who will find Maddy and Clarissa’s ability to transcend time and work together as a team engaging.