by Cornelia Funke
Read by Elliot Hill
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When Jacob was 11, his father disappeared. After a year of missing him, and being angry at his disappearance, Jacob enters his father’s study, and following some cryptic notes, ends up falling through a mirror into a completely different world.
Fast forward 12 years, and Jacob has made a life for himself in the Mirrorworld as a Finder for the Empress Therese of Austry. Then once (and once is all it took) his younger brother Will followed him through the mirror and was attacked by the Goyl, stone people who are at war with the humans. As a result, Will is slowly turning into the jade Goyl, cursed by the Dark Fairy to be the protector for the Goyl king.
Jacob is angry — at himself, at the fairy, at the world, at Will — and has vowed to do anything to save his brother. This leads himself, Will, Will’s girlfriend Clara (who came through the mirror after him), and a shape-shifter by the name of Fox (who’s been Jacob’s companion for years, and wishes that Jacob could realize that she’s more than just his shadow) on an interesting, dangerous and possible futile adventure across the world hoping to save Will from becoming a Goyl for good.
It’s a clever story, turning Grimm’s fairy tales upside down, weaving them through this dark tale. And don’t get me wrong, with the age of the characters and the intensity of the tale, I kept wondering why this was a middle grade novel. It’s scary. It’s intense. It’s not for the faint-of-heart. But it wasn’t until I read the review of it at Charlotte’s Library, that I realized that it really is a coming-of-age story, and not just a fairy tale. Charlotte puts it quite nicely:
Despite the ostensibly already grown-up age of the central characters, this is a book about growing-up, about how the relationships of brothers and friends, and perceptions of oneself, change in terrifying ways as adulthood is entered. Jacob might be 24 on paper, but the young man in the mirror world is more an avatar of oldness exploring a fantasy world than a convincing adult–his character is still very much that of the reckless adolescent, confused by his emotional responses to the questions posed by growing up. Although sex lurks in the background (it’s never explicitly or centrally part of the story), for Jacob it is still the hormonally charged lust of the adolescent–he has yet to learn love (oh poor Fox. I felt for her so very much).
It makes so much more sense when viewed at it this way. Though, like Charlotte, I’d be loathe to give it to the younger middle grade readers, for this isn’t of the faint of heart. And as the jacket flap warns: it’s not a happily-ever-after.
As for the medium, I think I enjoyed listening to it better (though there were times when I
wondered about who was speaking; I gather Jacob talked to himself quite a bit) than I would have reading it. Hill did an admirable job narrating as well as with the character’s voices, which helped me get into the story in a way I wouldn’t have if I’d read the print version. It also helped that I couldn’t look to the end to see if it all turned out “okay”.
Also, props to Funke for creating such an elaborate and interesting world. She, much like Rowling, has an incredible imagination and a gift for making everything pop off the page. It’s a strange book, but one that I think will stay with me for quite a while.