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Black Mirror

Black Mirror

4.0 8
by Nancy Werlin

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A compelling thriller from a National Book Award Finalist author

Frances Leventhal refuses to look in the mirror; she can't bear to face her reflection. She has hidden from herself and everyone around her for such a long time, and now that her brother Daniel has committed suicide, she can't help thinking that it's somehow her fault. If she hadn't been so caught


A compelling thriller from a National Book Award Finalist author

Frances Leventhal refuses to look in the mirror; she can't bear to face her reflection. She has hidden from herself and everyone around her for such a long time, and now that her brother Daniel has committed suicide, she can't help thinking that it's somehow her fault. If she hadn't been so caught up in her own pain, maybe she would have noticed her brother's. It's time to stop hiding—to reach out to Daniel's friends at their private school. Daniel had been deeply involved in Unity Service, the charitable group on campus, and Frances is determined to join the group and to make amends.

But something's not quite right about Unity, and soon Frances finds herself in the middle of a puzzle too ominous to ignore. Exactly what are the Unity members trying so hard to hide? And why does no one else on campus, adult or teen, seem suspicious of them? This time Frances won't scurry away to hide. The memory of her brother is at stake.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The snowy prep school setting is the perfect backdrop for Werlin's (The Killer's Cousin) chilling and well-constructed mystery. Her narrator is a unique creation, a girl who begins to discover herself as she unravels a huge conspiracy. Frances Leventhal, half Jewish and half Japanese and confused about her identity, comes from a dysfunctional family: her father writes unpublishable science fiction and her mother has entered a Buddhist monastery in Osaka. Attending the elite Pettengill School only because of a scholarship, she has trouble connecting with anyone except a retarded groundskeeper and her art teacher. However, when her brother dies of a heroin overdose, Frances feels compelled to join the charitable organization that he was obsessed with. But something's not right about Unity Service nor with one of its student leaders, her brother's girlfriend Saskia, who's determined to keep her out. Frances's aptitude for art feels familiar, and her relationship with the groundskeeper, Andy, who's slow but true and calls her by her full name, is a bit too precious, but readers will empathize with Frances and her sense of alienation and longing. Even as Frances and Andy start to put the pieces together, Werlin continues to take readers through unexpected and exciting turns. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The Killer's Cousin and Locked Inside are previous mysteries by Werlin, and Black Mirror will appeal to her many readers. This too is set at a private high school, where students are intelligent and sophisticated. The narrator, Frances Leventhal, begins her story with the suicide of her brother and its aftermath. She has always been a loner, retreating into her art, rather disgusted by her appearance. Her Japanese mother left the family some years before to retreat into the life of a monastery in Japan. Frances and her brother were estranged as he became more and more involved in school affairs, especially in the work of a charity organization named Unity Service. Frances cannot accept that he killed himself; she believes someone killed him and she thinks if she can force herself to join Unity Service she may find out why and how he was killed. To this end, she reaches out to some people, and is surprised by their reactions. In fact, there are many surprises as Frances discovers the truth about Unity Service and those connected to it. Readers may find Frances just too weird at first, seeing her through her own eyes as ugly and unlovable. But as she climbs out of her isolation she is revealed to herself and to others as someone who is creative and unique—and certainly capable. Her courage and the suspenseful climatic scenes will win over almost any mystery reader. One detail to mention: she finds a stash of marijuana her brother had hidden, and she smokes some joints experimentally, later flushing the dope down the toilet in disgust. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Penguin Putnam, Dial, 249p., $16.99. Ages 13 to 18.Reviewer: Claire Rosser; September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Frances, a scholarship student at a prestigious prep school, is plunged into a morass of confusion and intrigue after the apparent suicide of her only brother. To be part of what was important to her brother, she decides she should join the school's charitable club that was so integral a part of her brother's school life. At her first meeting, she feels prickly sensations signaling something is not right about this group. A mildly retarded groundskeeper is the only one she can turn to when she discovers the true nature of the organization, and questions whether her brother's death was a suicide or not. In this fast-paced mystery, Nancy Werlin once again keeps readers in suspense until the end of the book, and then offers a provocative surprise. Her willingness to delve into the human psyche, and share deep insights about human loneliness, fear, and self-acceptance give readers much more than a riveting novel. 2001, Dial, 249 pp.,
— Diana Mitchell
Black Mirror is really for high school age students. It was hard to read because it was difficult to understand. I found it unbelievable that one major thing happens and everything changes. It does show that the way people act in person can be different from how they are inside. This book, like Werlin's others, makes you want to put it down but somehow you're still drawn to it. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Dial, 256p, $16.99. Ages 15 to 18. Reviewer: Kathleen Melohn, Teen Reviewer
Children's Literature
When her brother dies of an apparent self-induced heroin overdose, Frances Leventhal tries to understand a brother she thought she knew. Daniel was ten months older than Frances and they were in the same grade in school. Thanks to a scholarship program established by the Unity Foundation, Daniel and Frances attended the private Pettengill School. Daniel immediately became involved with Unity, a charitable organization. Frances, however, preferred to express herself through her paintings. Her self-consciousness kept her from making friends easily. The mirror draped in black for her brother's death becomes a symbol of Frances' not wanting to look inside herself, but also not seeing what was inside her brother. As Frances begins to delve into Daniel's activities, she discovers that the foundation is a front for drug dealing and she suspects that her brother was murdered. Werlin is adept at creating suspenseful moods and vivid settings. She has enough red herrings and twists in the plot to keep the reader involved. In fact, there is an interesting twist at the end where the murderer is identified. Peer pressure, the desire to belong and drug use are all central to the plot. 2001, Dial, $16.99. Ages 14 up. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Werlin has written an intriguing story using subtle foreshadowing to build tension and create a sense of urgency while weaving a psychological study of a high school student who has no friends and little self-esteem. Abandoned by her mother and raised by an emotionally distant father, Frances, a teen of Japanese-Jewish descent, struggles to accept herself and cope with her brother's suicide. She recognizes that to come to grips with her guilt and grief, she must understand the reasons behind Daniel's tragic death. Daniel was actively involved with Unity, their private school's charitable organization, but Frances avoided it, even though it was responsible for both siblings' scholarships. She feels the need to carry on his work with Unity despite the unwillingness of the group to accept her. As time passes, she senses that things are not right; teachers, students, and the organization itself are not who they seem to be. What she uncovers puts her own life in danger and leads to some shocking truths about Daniel's life and death. Readers will relate to Frances's internal and external struggles as she tries to sort out the motives of the various characters with whom she comes in contact. Werlin has hit the jackpot with this well-written and masterfully developed novel. A can't-put-it-down mystery thriller.-Susan Geye, Crowley Ninth Grade Campus, TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
New England boarding-school junior Frances Leventhal endangers herself when she looks into her brother Daniel's suicide. As freshmen, Frances and Daniel received scholarships to Pettengill thanks to Unity, a charitable organization started by a recent alum. Daniel and other scholarship students volunteer for Unity, but Frances never wanted to. Shocked when Daniel dies of a heroin overdose, Frances realizes she didn't really know him and, in remorse, starts working for Unity. But the organization's lackluster food pantry, its arrogant leader, and strange conversations she overhears make Frances increasingly suspicious. She doesn't know whom to tell; her father, an unsuccessful writer, is emotionally distant, and her mother has returned to her native Japan to join a Buddhist monastery. Finally, Frances trusts a grounds worker who is slightly mentally retarded but steady and thoughtful. Meanwhile, Frances, who struggles with her Jewish/Japanese heritage and appearance, expresses her confusion and anger through art, which provides one of the themes: "If you think you already know what you're looking at, you might not see what's really there." Frances recognizes that she has been blind about herself and her brother, whose true personality emerges subtly through her memories of him. Although the confirmation of Frances's suspicions falls a bit flat, the story's twists keep the reader guessing from beginning to end. Werlin (Locked Inside, 2000, etc.) has once again excelled in combining a skillfully wrought plot with fully developed characters and rich themes. (Fiction. 12+)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.74(w) x 4.20(h) x 0.66(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Seven years ago, when I was only nine and we had just moved into her house, Bubbe stood me in front of her. Seated in her chair, she could still look straight into my face, and then her eyes narrowed as she looked me up and down. “Frances,” she announced sternly, “you may have her delicate face and bones, but you are not going to be a dainty Japanese woman like your mother. You’re going to be a typical voluptuous Leventhal.” She put her hands measuringly on my hips and added disapprovingly: “And soon.”

Bubbe, my father’s mother, was of course a Leventhal only by marriage. Her statement felt to me like the curse of an evil fairy. Within weeks I menstruated for the first time, and also discovered that I was one of those women plagued by vicious monthly cramps. And naturally, it didn’t end there. My waist nipped in; my hips rounded; and my breasts swelled suddenly and painfully, so that for a while I had to clutch them to my chest with one arm when going up and down stairs.

Even before this I’d known myself to be somewhat strange in appearance. Yes, there was a strong facial resemblance to my mother. But other things about me made people blink, or frown in puzzlement. I’d seen the discreet double takes. I’d been asked countless times: “Where are you from?” I certainly didn’t appear Caucasian—that is, typically “American”—and I didn’t fit a single stereotype of what a Jew ought to look like. All would have been well if I had just looked Japanese, but there was also something about my looks that didn’t fit what people expected from a child of Asian ancestry. Something that seemed a little . . . off.

My premature maturity made things worse. It wasn’t just the uncomfortable weirdness of my changing body, or Bubbe’s patent disapproval, or even the fact that my father abruptly stopped being able to hug me. There was also an incident that I could not forget.

It happened a few months after we’d moved to Lattimore. I was waiting in a grocery line, holding our place while my father ran back for orange juice, when I noticed two women in the next line pointing. And then whispering.

“What is she? Some kind of Asian?”

“Yes, I guess—although, that hair? A mix? I don’t know. But, oh, look at the breasts. I could cry.”

“I know! She’s so tiny, they make her look like a dwarf.”

“Poor freaky kid.”


As soon as I got back to Bubbe’s, I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom. I had planned to take off all my clothes, stand on the step stool, and look at myself, naked, in the mirror above the sink. But I didn’t. Instead I sat on the closed lid of the toilet and cried. In my mind I could hear those two women. And after that I began wearing big, baggy clothes and avoiding mirrors.

It was also around this time that my brother, Daniel, and I began to suspect that our move from Cambridge to rural, dying Lattimore was permanent, and that our father honestly didn’t have a clue if our enigmatic mother would ever decide to come back from her Buddhist monastery in Osaka.

More importantly, that was when I began to draw.

I drew anything. Everything. Doodles at first. But I had a knack for reproducing what I saw, and soon my paper and pencil—and then later, my paints and charcoals—formed a strong, protective wall around me. They stood between me and everyone else in the world. I liked it that way. I liked being quiet, letting no one know what I thought, or how ferocious those thoughts were.

I let no one know, that is, but my brother. Just ten months older than me, and in the same grade at school (and, through some genetic freakishness, tall and mostly Caucasian-looking), Daniel was my best and only friend. Daniel was the only person with whom I was willing to share my real self, the Frances who was behind my wall of art, my habitual quiet mask. The real me. Me, Frances. Frances, who was screaming and angry inside. Frances, who was just . . . waiting, although I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for.

Yes, when we were first living with Bubbe, I had been able to talk to Daniel. He had meant so much to me. And yet, after we began at The Pettengill School, two years ago, I hadn’t been able to stop our closeness from slipping away, until it was irretrievably gone.

I used to blame Pettengill for that. I used to blame Saskia. Saskia, and Daniel’s friends in the Unity Service charitable group at school. I’d blamed Patrick Leyden, the entrepreneur who’d founded Unity and who Daniel longed to emulate. And, of course, I’d blamed Daniel himself.

I used to blame anyone but myself.

But now that Daniel is gone, I know better. My brother is dead of a massive, self-injected dose of heroin, and the only note he left behind was for Saskia. My brother was in pain, and I noticed nothing. Nothing.

Chapter 2

Everyone who was anyone at The Pettengill School showed up at Bubbe’s house on the last night we sat shivah for Daniel. Some had come earlier in the week as well, but they seemed to think it was important to return on this final night. I helped with food and drinks. I was, in fact, nearly crazed after the empty days in which neither my father nor Bubbe had anything to say. Crazed with my own ceaseless circling anguish. It was a relief to have people around. “Cookie?” I asked person after person, quietly. “Chocolate chip? Mint Milano? Peanut butter? Please have another.”

In the hall I let my eyes rest on the black-draped mirror. I had a fleeting wish that it, and all mirrors, could stay that way always. I didn’t want, even by accident, to catch a glimpse of myself.

I kept looking for Daniel’s girlfriend, Saskia. I was girding myself to approach her tonight, even though I knew she would be surrounded by her friends. Unity, the charitable group. Daniel’s friends too, of course. I had never liked Saskia, and I knew that she despised me. But now . . . now.

I took a deep breath. I continued to circulate as I waited for her to arrive. I nodded; allowed myself to be gently hugged; to have my hands pressed and my face examined minutely. It felt odd, everyone being so nice. I didn’t know if I liked it. I had become accustomed to being ignored at school.

When would Saskia arrive?

I listened while Brenda Delahay told me at length how much she would miss Daniel. How kind he had been; how caring; how unusual that was. She washed down seven mint Milano cookies with Diet Coke. Then she excused herself. I watched her stick legs mount the stairs toward the bathroom and wondered if what I’d overheard about her was true. It had been Daniel who’d said it, under his breath to Saskia as our class waited for history to start. After Brenda had come running in, looking very pale, and slipped into her seat.

When’s she going to figure out that it’s easier to do speed than throw up? Maybe somebody should ease her in with some diet pills.

Not so kind; not so caring; in fact, a rotten, mean joke for Daniel to make. But I knew no boy could possibly understand the importance of being slender. Not the way girls understood. And Daniel had liked thin girls—you had only to look at Saskia.

I realized I’d put my hand tentatively on my own round hip. I snatched it away. I swiveled. “Cookie?” I said randomly to the group of kids behind me.

“Sure,” said James Droussian. I noticed he was drinking milk, of all things. He took two cookies, said, “Thanks, Frances,” and grinned appreciatively right at me. And I felt my cheeks warm uncontrollably in response.

James just . . . well. There was that adorable brown ponytail, and the cheekbones so defined that they looked like they could cut paper. He talked easily to anyone, as if he didn’t have a clue that there were groups and cliques. On top of that, there was the way he smiled. For an instant his eyes looked directly into yours and said silently: You.

And you couldn’t help feeling, for that instant, that he truly thought you were interesting. That he couldn’t wait to get to know you.

Of course I knew better. James Droussian had only come to Pettengill this past fall, but it was already an open secret that he dealt drugs. He never touched anything himself; never urged anything on anyone. But he always had a little something around. So it was his business to have people like him, to charm people, and it didn’t matter who they were, so long as they could pay. He was everybody’s friend, James, and that smile of his—it was meaningless.

I turned my back on James and his little circle of burnouts. Then, for the first time, it occurred to me to wonder exactly where Daniel had gotten the smack he’d overdosed on. Was it possible James had sold—no. I dismissed the thought immediately. Daniel had had no more money than I had, and I’d heard that James didn’t do samples. I’d always thought Daniel had gotten his marijuana from friends, free. Someone must have given him the heroin as well. Who? And did I even want to know? What difference did it make, after all? It wouldn’t bring him back to life, or change the facts about me. My brother had had a major habit, and I’d thought he only smoked some occasional marijuana.

Suddenly I heard Daniel’s voice in my mind, jeering the way he used to: Frances, cultivate mindfulness. I felt my shoulders hunch defensively. After our mother left, Daniel had memorized literally hundreds of Buddhist aphorisms and catchphrases, from the profound to the preposterous. He had quoted them mockingly at every opportunity, driving me—and our father—nearly crazy.

I practically ran into the foyer with my now-empty plate of cookies.

I was just in time to put the plate down and greet a little circle of Pettengill teachers and administrators, who were trickling in from the front porch where they’d been stamping the snow off their boots. Headmaster Ferkell and his wife, who taught chemistry. Ancient Mrs. Kingston, Latin. Mr. Dickenson and Ms. Polke, history. Mr. Prodanas, math.

And then Patrick Leyden came in, looking thin and dapper and self-assured in one of his expensive wool suits. But, as always, I had to work to not stare at his earlobes. They were round and fleshy and swung slightly whenever he moved his head. Even tonight my fingers itched to draw a vicious caricature.

Daniel’s voice sneered again in my head. A disciplined mind leads to happiness.

More Pettengill teachers streamed in steadily, looking down into my face and pressing my hands (the men) or stooping to hug me (the women). All of them saying nice things about Daniel. I searched surreptitiously for my art teacher, Ms. Wiles. Finally I spotted her, looking especially young and pretty with snowflakes melting on her cinnamon hair. She was standing beside Patrick Leyden, who was talking at her nonstop. As if she felt my gaze, Ms. Wiles looked up and nodded, solemnly, directly at me. I nodded back, and the moment was like a sudden oasis in the noise and confusion and pain.

Sometimes I felt sure that Ms. Wiles could just look at me and understand things I hadn’t even fully formulated. Not that she ever said them aloud. She just . . . looked. As now. I can’t explain it. Yvette Wiles was just . . . special. We could be silent together.

Sometimes I wished I could be her.

As the stream of adults ended, I spotted Saskia across the room. She was with a few of her friends. Unity Service folks, as I’d expected. Wallace Chan. George de Witt, who was the Vice President of Unity. A couple others.

I wanted to talk to Saskia; I had planned to talk to her, but my stomach roiled anyway. Shame swept over me. How could I say what I wanted to say? How would she react? Maybe I shouldn’t—maybe I couldn’t . . .

Unity Service. Why, freshman year, had I so stubbornly refused to help out with their food and clothing drives for the poor, their scholarship fund-raisers? Unity Service was a big deal. Although only a few years old, it had become the largest and most respected student-run charitable group in the country. They’d funded my own scholarship, among so many others, but still I kept saying no. No, no, no. Even Daniel hadn’t been able to sway me. I’d just kept repeating that I wasn’t a joiner.

If I said now that I’d changed my mind, would they scorn me?

We wouldn’t have you now if you begged to join, Daniel had told me last year. You’re the only scholarship recipient in Unity’s history who hasn’t joined the organization. Who hasn’t helped out; who hasn’t given back. I’m actually ashamed of my own sister! Art doesn’t help anyone, you know. It doesn’t give people jobs, or food, or clothes, or opportunities. Business joined to charity does that.Business joined to charity. Those words were a straight quote from Patrick Leyden, and when Daniel quoted Leyden, he didn’t mock.

I wanted to talk to Saskia. Ethereal dark-haired Saskia Sweeney, unrecognizable as the poor girl from Lattimore she’d once been. Saskia, Daniel’s girlfriend, of whom I’d been so jealous. Who, I’d thought, had stolen my brother’s companionship and love from me. I wanted to beg for forgiveness. I wanted to be her friend. But I—I couldn’t. Not tonight.

Meet the Author

Nancy Werlin writes YA fiction that ranges from realistic fiction to suspense to fantasy, often breaking the boundaries between genres. Her books have gathered awards too numerous to mention, but including National Book award finalist, Edgar award winner and finalist, New York Times bestseller, L.A. Book Prize finalist, and IndieBound Top Ten. Nancy's first novel, Are You Alone on Purpose, was a Publishers Weekly Flying Start pick.
Of Nancy's suspense fiction, Sarah Weinman says, "Chances are, many of you haven't heard of this author. That would be a shame, because she's simply one of the best crime novelists going right now. Period." These titles are where Nancy habitually breaks genre-separation rules and include The Rules of Survival (a National Book Award finalist), The Killer's Cousin (Edgar award winner), Locked Inside (Edgar award nominee), Black Mirror (which the Washington Post called "an edge-of-your seat thriller"), and Double Helix (named to multiple best-of-year book lists). 
Nancy's unusual fantasy fiction was inspired by the ballad Scarborough Fair and includes the loose trilogy Impossible (a New York Times bestseller), Extraordinary (featuring a rare thing in fantasy fiction: a Jewish heroine), and her personal beloved, Unthinkable. 
For fun, Nancy also writes and draws a graphic memoir in comics, using her Tumblr to self-publish an episode three times a week. 
Her favorite book in all the world is Jane Eyre. 
A graduate of Yale, Nancy lives near Boston, Massachusetts with her husband.

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Black Mirror 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book rocks! i really looooved The Killers Cousin so i was looking forward to another book by Nancy WErlin. This book did not disappoint. Just when you thought you had the mystery figured out, a bunch of other stuff came into play. i read it in one day and ended up walking around holding the book while I did other stuff just so I could find out what happened!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have no words for how good this book is. Starts a little slow, but gets better. You become attached to the main character and feel a little sorry for her.
GinaAtThomas More than 1 year ago
A great mystery that I would recommend to anyone that can hang on and read a book that starts out slightly slow, but really picks up pace. You feel bad for the main character because she is in a dark place in her life. Her brother committed suicide but she really can't believe that's true. She tries to figure out what really happened to her brother. She goes to the Pettengill School and lots of weird things go on and the book gets better and better. If you keep reading to the end there are surprises for you and it is worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read in my life and anyone who dislikes it, though they are intitled to their own opinion, should really try to understand it more. Both the author's poetic and sybolic writing style and the original and surprising plotline made the novel excepion. Definitely recomended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did not enjoy this book at all. It was not happy at all and all the characters where not good people. I cannot say exactly why because that would ruin the ending for people who actually read this book. I would suggest you DO NOT read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would without a doubt give this book fives stars. It was a great storyline, captivating characters, and chilling twist of an end that is toally unexpected. A great mystery that I would recommend to anyone that can hang on and read a book that starts out slightly slow, but really picks up pace.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this was good. Not the best of your work but better than others. I like the end and the sort of twist to it. I think it says alot more than you wrote and I feel that i would recommend it to a friend.OH yeah and my novels are definatly better. :) just kiddin.