Monday, August 25, 2014

What we're reading: Time travel

I am a sucker for a good time travel story, so this weekend I took home Timeless, by Alexandra Monir, to see what a YA author would make of time travel.

The set-up is this: Michele lives in California with her mother, goes to Venice High, has a couple of besties, and leads a fairly normal life. The only unusual things about her are that she knows little about her father except that losing him broke her mother's heart; and that she is a descendent of the Windsors of New York, one of the "400 Families" considered the most fashionable socialites of the Gilded Age--but her mother is estranged from her family and Michele has never met them.

The other thing we discover in the first chapter is that she has a man of her dreams--a guy about whom she has dreamed ever since she was small, realistically and repetitively.

Then things change, and Michele ends up living in the posh 5th Avenue Windsor mansion in New York City with her grandparents, and weird stuff starts to happen. She finds a diary and a key, and they propel her into the past, where she discovers that the boy about whom she has dreamed actually exists--in 1910. Instead of a star-crossed romance, it's a time-crossed one. Etc.


I don't want to pan this book, because I can think of half a dozen teens, off the top of my head, who would probably love it, which is borne out by the number of five-star reviews on Goodreads. So I will say…not bad, but not great. Here are my reasons:
  1. The language: Although Monir is not a bad writer, and she obviously did her homework by conscientiously researching New York during all the time periods on which she touches, she was surprisingly inconsistent when it came to dialogue. Her present-day teens use expressions I have never heard from a teenager in the 2000s, and her past-tense people are occasionally similarly anachronistic.
  2. The romance: Michele has only seen Philip in her dreams, and yet he rapidly means "everything" to her. Then, when she actually meets him, it's pretty insta-love on both sides, with little reaction to the improbability of their situations.
  3. The plot: There is too much telling and not enough showing. There is too much talking and thinking and not enough doing. The story just feels small to me, in that Michele is obsessed with the minutiae without wondering much about the big picture, which leads me to...
  4. The time travel itself: I am a person who likes facts and theories, and I want stuff to make sense, so I was disappointed at the complete lack of a theory of time travel. The author's entire explanation (apart from a lot of pointless wondering on everyone's part) consisted of a little gushing from a classmate of the protagonist's--the only one in the present day to whom she reveals her ability to go back 100 years--who tells Michele excitedly that Einstein believed in time travel and therefore it must be possible. Really? That's it?
The accent here was all on the romance (although infatuation would be a better description) and the history, and not on the science. It was all desperate yearning for the person in the other time, trying to reach him or her, wanting to be together. In other words, a little cheesy, and surprisingly dull in some parts. The historical details were well done--I thought the best part of the book involved her ancestor, Lily--and there's a set-up for a sequel that seemed promising. I also liked it that the author included a few pages at the back about what research she did, where she went, and what books further inspired her or served as the foundation of the story. People who found her descriptions (which were good) of turn-of-the-(last)-century NYC will know where to look for more. Bravo for that. But really, I'd call this more of an historical fiction novel than a time travel story.

I will probably read the sequel (which is currently on order), just to see if things get more exciting, but it's not something I'm awaiting with bated breath.

Other time travel books (for adults, but suitable for upper-grade teens) that I have read and you might like (and that you can find at Burbank Public Library):

Kindred, by Octavia Butler
Timeline, by Michael Crichton
From Time to Time, by Jack Finney
Outlander (and its many sequels), by Diana Gabaldon
The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman
Somewhere in Time, by Richard Matheson
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
The Map of Time (and sequel) by Feliz J. Palma
Blackout, All Clear, Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, all by Connie Willis!

By the way, when I searched the catalog for "time travel," the results were deceptive: If you search that subject under Location: "Fiction" you get back 50 titles; but if you search it under Location: "Science Fiction" you get back 70, and none of them crosses over! So we actually have at least 120 books at the library somehow involved with time travel just in adult fiction!

We also have a Time Travel LIST published in our "Have You Read" book lists under "Teen book lists" in the catalog, with 63 more titles, most of which also don't come up if you just search "fiction." My assumption would have been that the common theme of time travel would make them all come up when I asked for "time travel," but they did not. This is a good lesson in being thorough with your catalog searches at the library!

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