The Here and Now
Recently I pulled up to a three-way stop at the same time as another driver. Feeling generous I waved to her to go ahead of me and followed her sedately down the road. Minutes later a car that missed their stop sign plowed in to her. She was fine, the other driver was fine but somehow they managed to total their two cars. If I had been seconds before her it would have been my car totaled. Time can be a witch that way, which is what this novel is all about.
Prenna James immigrated to New York five years ago when she was just twelve. Except Prenna didn’t really immigrate. She had been in the area known as America all along. Just not in 21st century America. Her America is called Postremo – and it is a mosquito infested hell where everyone hides from the bites that bring death. She – and several hundred others – have come from the future to change the past and ensure that the tragedies that create the devastations of that time never occur.
Yet as the years have gone on Prenna has begun to doubt that they really are changing anything. She and the others who escaped to the present day follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. The rules, laid down by Traveler One, seem more about oppressing the Travelers than about fixing the coming problems. And the society has become so fascistically devoted to them that every year they lose people who break the rules to strange “accidents”.
Prenna knows she is in danger of becoming one of those statistics herself. She has developed a close friendship with time native Ethan Jarves, a relationship strictly forbidden by the society. She has been able to get away with it so far by claiming that their friendship helps her blend in at school. All of that changes when a homeless man she and Ethan have befriended, a fellow they call Ben Kenobi, tells her that he too is a time traveler. That he fears for his life. And that she must perform his mission if he can’t.
Things get worse as Prenna tries to juggle the problems she is having with the society and then learns that Kenobi had outed her as a time traveler to Ethan, creating a whole set of new problems for her. And then Kenobi is murdered right in front of her, launching her into a series of events which will change the very course of time.
First, a bit of fan girl gushing. I absolutely adored Ms. Brashare’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants novels. They were DIK reads for me. Well written and heartwarming, they remind you about all the best things about being a teenage girl. I was delighted when I received the opportunity to review this book and reconnect with a beloved author’s work.
Now back to the review. I’m a science fiction junkie, have been since about the second grade, and this novel easily appealed to that aspect of my nature. Watching Prenna and Ethan figure out the who what and where in the precise when met my idea of fun. The novel is short, which actually adds to the sweetness since the tale remained completely focused on the story it was telling. We didn’t get caught up in sub-plots or techno babble. The writing is smooth and the mystery interesting which made the book a pleasure to read.
The characters are also very well developed. Prenna has the exact personality to be the kind of individual needed in this plot. She is basically a kind, loving person who only bends the rules when she finds them very unfair. She is a thinker, bright and articulate and curious. Ethan is the same. Although they had more “typical teen” about them (they could be distracted from their mission by hormones) than is average in YA dystopian fiction it worked pretty well with the time and setting. While we didn’t spend much time with the secondary characters they were fleshed out enough to be believable and do an excellent job in their supporting role.
But few books are perfect and this one had some flaws. The author tended to be very heavy handed with her green message, letting us know in no uncertain terms how our current behaviors are destroying the world for future generations. I don’t mind messages in books but when the characters are used as mouth pieces for the cause it tends to cross a line for me. That’s a minor point but I know it can be a pet peeve for some people.
Oddly enough what I tripped over most in this novel was the science. I say oddly because I am far, far from a science geek. But this one had a lot of jumbled facts that just didn’t add up for someone even as unscientific as I am. For example, how can several hundred people avoid affecting the future? Remember, one of the society’s rules was never interfere with the future. Yet that large a group couldn’t help but interfere with the future. One person or two might have a ripple affect but the sheer number of people brought back in time, the “couple hundred” people Prenna talks about at the end of the novel, would have a wave effect on our time stream. Unless they formed some kind of commune to avoid the rest of humanity but they didn’t. They went to our schools, ate at our restaurants, and shopped at our stores. Since the point of the novel was that time was flexible, that we could change the dystopian outcome of our world by making changes now, the quantity of people sent back qualified as a major mistake to me. I think people can enjoy the novel in spite of this. I did. But purist might notice so I thought it was worth mentioning.
Those two quibbles aside, smooth writing, brisk pacing and complex moral dilemmas make this novel an interesting addition to the time travel category. I recommend it to fans of that genre.