This first book in the Tomorrow Girls series is the perfect book for a summer camping trip! Although it is set in a futuristic world in the middle of a war, much of the content has more of an old-fashioned feel. Best friends Louisa and Maddie are sent off to a boarding school where they will be “safe” from the war. Once there, they discover that the Country Manor School is not exactly what they expected.
Rather than the traditional computer-based classes the girls are used to (they have never really mastered penmanship because they so rarely use actual writing utensils), CMS offers classes in primitive survival skills, like starting a fire, canoeing, and foraging for food. The girls’ suspicions run high about the school, its strict teachers, and their unconventional methods and rules.
According to their teachers, the girls may not swim in the lake because it is toxic from pollution. But, when Maddie, Louisa and their roommates Evelyn and Rosie run into a group of boys from the camp across the lake, they learn that the lake is not toxic at all – the boys swim in it all the time! Suddenly this one minor inconsistency makes all of Evelyn’s conspiracy theories seem a lot more plausible. If the lake is not really toxic from pollution, then why can’t they swim in it? Do the teachers really want to keep them safe? Or is there something else going on – are they trying to prevent them from escaping? The big question arises: are the girls truly safer at CMS or would they be better off away from the teachers and their questionable motives even if that means they would have to use their newly acquired survival skills out in the untamed wilderness?
Behind the Gates is a great read because the girls’ reconnection to nature is refreshing, and there is a wonderfully accurate portrayal of the tensions and warmth of pre-teen friendship. But the best thing about Tomorrow Girls is its suspense. I finished this book in one day and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next book. This is great reading for a reluctant reader in the 9-12 age range because it is a relatively thin book; because it draws them into the novel immediately, and because it is a fast-paced story that will hold them and then lead them to the rest of the series. It is also good for a younger reader who is looking for something more advanced as the content is mild enough for a wider age range. Either way your young reader will love it. The only problem I foresee with this book is that it will be hard to enforce lights-out!
Reviewed by MES
THEMES: BEST FRIENDS. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL STORIES. SELF-CONFIDENCE. SUSPENSE.
Scholastic Paperbacks, 2011
Suggested Ages: 9-12