Book Review: The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost

October 22, 2009

The Book of Time
Guillaume Prevost
Time Travel
Age 12+
224 pages

Eye-catching Cover

Eye-catching Cover

I have a hard time finding good time travel books. I’ve read my fair share, but I can’t name a single time travel book that I love. I think in part I am overly critical when it comes to time travel books since it’s what I write.  That said, I did enjoy this book overall despite its problems.  The set up was long winded but presented a strong and interesting concept. And once the author created his time travel rules he followed them—little pet peeve of mine, so liked that.

After the death of his mother in a car accident, Sam and his father move into an old house where his father sets up a bookstore specializing in antique books. Sam’s father disappears and the adventure begins as Sam decides, unintentionally at first, to go back in time to search for him.

There are some good plot elements in this book, but they get lost at times in a very slow start and a few tediously slow passages towards the end. Within all the slow parts is a very clever plot, and a very different spin on time travel. The “way” Sam travels from past to present is clever and actually ties into the whole story. The author sets up specific guidelines and sticks to them, which I appreciated. My favorite plot element was the fact that Sam 1) moved back and forth between the past and present and 2) he never went back to the same place twice. I’d have liked to have seen the author take fuller advantage of this (though I think I will get my wish on this count in the second book).

Sam was an okay character. He deals with self-doubt issues in the present, but is a much stronger character when he is in the past. I’d have liked to see Lily, Sam’s cousin, introduced much sooner. She was by far the more interesting character to me, and it was when she became a part of the story that the plot started to pick up its pace. There are a variety of antagonists in the book, both historical and contemporary. I hope that the sequel explores them more, especially Sam’s Aunt’s boyfriend.

In a nut shell, this book felt more like a set up for a sequel than a standalone novel. A lot of editing and quicker start would have really made this book stand out.

It’s also important to note that this novel is a translation. The author is French and this is his first children’s book. I’d love to get my hand on the French version and read it. Having attended a French high school and read my fair share of French books, there are many instances in this book where I feel like the story might have been changed to fit an English translation, which might account for some of my issues with the novel.

I’m a big book cover person. I’ll pick up a bad book and read it just because of an amazing cover. I have to say this is one of the better covers I’ve seen this year. I’ve felt like this past year there’s been a lack of good cover art in children’s fiction, so it’s always nice to see an exciting cover.

If you read this book you’re going to have to be patient, really patient. It takes a good half of the book before the story really begins. That said, I still think it’s worth the read—especially if you want to study the mechanics of time travel. If you make it to the end…it’s a cliffhanger. You’ve been forewarned. You’ll want to request Gates of Time, the sequel, which I predict will be a much better read.

For those interested here’s an INTERVIEW done with the author.


Type 2: Save Someone

October 20, 2009

Mini Time Travel Series

Type 2: Save Someone

The second type of time travel novel is what I call “save someone.”  As implied by the title, these novels focus on saving a character.  Like most time travels, this type is very plot driven. Often the beginning is slow (a trait common to most time travel) as the protagonist discovers what has happened and who he must save.  From there the story gains momentum as the protagonist discovers his goal and works toward achieving it.  Whether the character in need of rescuing is from the past or the present will also have some important implications for the story structure.

When the character to be saved in the past is actually from the past, the novel usually starts out with an accidental journey.  The protagonist is dragged into the past unexpectedly and usually unwillingly.  The beginning lacks focus until the protagonist discovers what is happening.  The pace then quickens and builds to a dramatic end where the character is rescued from his fate in the nick of time.  In On Etruscan Time, by Tracey Barrett, Hector spends the first half of the novel time traveling between the past and present with no clue as to why he’s been pulled back in time.  After he learns that he needs to save a young boy from his execution, the frequency of his visits increases, and the stakes are raised as times starts to run out.  One trait common to this version is that the present day is changed.  Altering just one event from the past, even a small one, affects the present, but typically only the protagonist realizes the change has happened.

While the protagonist is usually vaulted back in time with no warning to rescue a character from the past, he often makes the trip intentionally when trying to save a character from the present.  Usually the protagonist realizes someone is missing and actively searches for them from the beginning.  While the protagonist knows he needs to save someone he generally doesn’t know how to go about it at first.  In The Book of Time, by Guillaume Prevost, Sam realizes his father has disappeared, but it takes two trips to the past before he begins to understand how to manipulate his time travel to get to his father.  There is generally little to no change in the present in this case, probably because the past is used as a setting only and historic events and people are unchanged by the protagonist’s journey.

The time period will determine the plot, but the setting in these novels can be anywhere.    Recent past or ancient history, it doesn’t matter, you can save someone in any time period.    If the author wants the story to take place in Pharaohs Egypt, Medieval France or 1800s Wild West then all he has to do is create a plot that works for that time period.  Because I wanted to write about seven completely different time periods, most of the books in my Abigail Wenworth Series fall into this type.  This is probably the most adaptable of all types of time travel and therefore one of the most common.

Don’t miss any of the Time Travel Mini Series!
Type 1: Walk in my Shoes

Book Review: The Devil’s Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen

August 26, 2009

The Devil’s Arithmetic
Jane Yolen
Time Travel
Age 10+
176 pages

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

One girl's experiences in a concentration camp.

This is a great example of using time travel to teach a lesson. The main character is sent to the past to walk in her ancestors’ shoes.  This book also does something I haven’t seen much in children’s literature. It shows the horrors of the concentration camps. This isn’t about a character and her escape, it’s about her survival in a camp.

Twelve year old Hannah is sick of spending Passover ‘remembering’ the past with her relatives. During the Passover Seder, she is transported to 1942 Poland, where she becomes Chaya (her Hebrew name), the girl she was named for. She is soon sent to a concentration camp, where she experiences firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust.

There were many great aspects to this book. Hannah has a strong voice and she compels you to keep reading. Despite the horrible things happening to her, you want to go down the difficult path with her. The “meat” of the story (when Hannah arrives at the concentration camp) doesn’t really start until the second half, but this isn’t uncommon with time travel. You have to see what it is like for her in the present to understand and appreciate her journey to come.

I know slow starts are to be avoided, but I find fairly often in time travel you have to be patient–slow starts are common. Many times the story lies in the confusion the character experiences going back into the past, rather than the conflict that in other genres often happens in the first or second chapter.

There are two factors I always watch for in time travel – the “confusion factor” (how does the character react to time traveling) and the “language barrier” (how does the character understand a language not her own). I will do future posts on those topics. The confusion factor was handled fairly well. Hannah is believably confused, but catches on soon enough. The author (did what most authors do) made Hannah naturally understand Yiddish.

There was only one aspect that really threw me. Hannah goes back in time with all her “future” memories, but when she arrives at the concentration camp she suddenly has none of her memories.  She can’t remember anything about the present day.  I think the author was trying to show the gravity, devastation, hardships of the situation and how it affected Hannah, but her memory lost didn’t come across as being a result of such.  I understand that for the story to work, Hannah needed to lose her memory–and then remember it all–I just wish it had worked into the plot a little better, so it was more believable.

Overall I recommend this book to everyone. By using time travel as a plot device, the author was able to take a modern day girl (and therefore the reader) with no real concept of the horrors of the holocaust and make her live and understand it.

I leave you with this quote from the book which I think sums up the message of the book in a beautiful and unforgettable way.

Aunt Eve closed her eyes for a moment, as if thinking or remembering. Then she whispered back, ‘His name was Wolfe. Wolfe! And the irony of it was that he was as gentle as a lamb. He changed his name when we came to America. We all changed our names. To forget. Remembering was too painful. But to forget was impossible.’ (p. 163)

Type 1: “Walk in my shoes”

August 24, 2009

Mini Time Travel Series

Type 1: “Walk in my Shoes”

“Walk in my Shoes” is the defining trait of this type of time travel novel. In other words, experience what I’ve lived through. The use of time travel is for the sole purpose of teaching the protagonist a lesson.

This type of time travel has a very identifiable story structure. It begins in the present with a protagonist who doesn’t appreciate the importance of an historic event. The protagonist’s “I don’t care” attitude is what sets events in motion. For example, The Devil’s Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen, opens with the family celebrating the Passover Seder. Hannah is sick of remembering the past, and only grudgingly participates in the celebration.

Once the character’s attitude toward the event is established, he is sent back in time to learn its importance first hand. This is where the heart of the story begins. The protagonist is immersed into an unfamiliar historical setting, and his journey begins. Hannah’s journey starts when she symbolically opens the door to welcome the prophet Elijah and finds herself in a small Polish Village in 1942.

The rest of the novel is about the protagonist’s journey in “someone else’s shoes”. The protagonist must experience the events he previously didn’t appreciate or understand. Along the way, of course, his views alter. Then, only after the protagonist has learned a lesson, does he return to the present.

On a side note, a common trait in these novels are they almost always take place in more recent historical settings, usually the past 100-300 years. This is probably due to the fact that events that took place in the more distant past, say, during the Middle Ages or the Roman Empire, tend to have much less direct relevance to peoples’ lives today.

One last trait of this type time travel is it’s typically a character driven story as opposed to plot driven, which most time travel tend to be.