CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 11 . . . .January 19, 2007
Pittsburgh, PA: LBF Books, 2006.
197 pp., pbk., $17.95.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Marina Cohen.
"Chelsea," said Matt. "Look out the window."
Chelsea scowled at Matt, but she did look. It would have been impossible not to. Her eyes grew like two pieces of bubble gum. Her mouth dropped open; her muscles tensed. The fur-framed face was two centimeters from the glass. "That's an…that's an…"
"Indian!" shouted Matt. "Run for your lives!"
Twelve-year-old Sarah Sachs reluctantly finds herself living in Ottawa with her father after her parents' divorce. On her first day of school, she witnesses an event that is more than bizarre—she watches as an SUV drives right through a boy named Matt Barnes and leaves him unharmed.
Curious, Sarah befriends Matt, a bitter young man, who is rude and belligerent to all. Raised by Nadine, his father's assistant, Matt has never actually seen his father who has been missing since Matt's birth and only appears via DVD. Together, Sarah and Matt attempt to uncover the secret of Matt's father's disappearance and are propelled through a wormhole, created by his time machine, to an alternate universe in 17th century Canada. There, they find themselves in the midst of a battle between the Mohawk and Algonquin.
The two children are able to stop the war and convince chiefs Iroquet and Segoleh to form an alliance. Thanks to a failsafe programmed into the computer of the time machine, Sarah and Matt are brought back to the present time where they discover that they have, in fact, changed history, as the Prime Minister and Algonquin chief Annawan are one and the same.
As a lover of science fiction, particularly time travel, I was thoroughly looking forward to reading this novel. Though Deborah Jackson has the makings of a wonderful story that combines history and scientific fact, the novel, unfortunately, falls short in many respects.
The 12-year-old characters' actions and dialogue are inconsistent and often not credible. At times, they appear far too savvy for their age. As well, certain vocabulary and scenes are better suited to a YA audience, making this reviewer wonder if, perhaps, Jackson had originally had older characters in mind.
The teacher's reaction toward Matt's rude behavior (which goes largely unchecked) and the unexpected visit from Algonquin chief Annawan (which both frightens and enrages her) are not credible character development.
In several instances, Jackson uses dialogue to deliver lengthy history lessons. Example:
"It was the European diseases mostly. They had no immunity to them. So eventually there weren't enough of them left to fight. You must have read about the land grabs. The British, French, and Dutch governments bequeathed land that was not theirs to begin with to their citizens who settled here. They also forced many tribes to sign treaties that tricked them into giving up their rights to vast tracts of land, while they were pushed into tiny reservations. It's the saddest, cruelest part of our history."
In terms of plot, the novel begins with promise then slows dramatically. As well, several plot questions are inadequately explained. For example, if Matt's father had enough foresight to program a failsafe into his computer, why can it not bring him back? As well, when dealing with time-travel, writers must be cautious of the paradoxes. Jackson deals with this by explaining how the history of an alternate universe can be changed without affecting the "real" world; however, at the end of the novel, Jackson has a monumental change in the "real" world occur, thus nullifying the previous explanation.
The length and physical structure of the novel are also worth noting as the author has intended this book for ages 10-14, even citing links to the Ontario Curriculum for grades 5 and 6 at the back of the book. The novel, itself, is quite large and the font small, making it deceptively long. At approximately 12 words per line, 41 lines per page and 188 pages, Time Meddlers is almost double the average length of novels suited to this age group.
Perhaps most disappointing of all is Jackson's stereotyping of Aboriginal people. Though her underlying desire seems to be to educate readers of the plight and unfair treatment of Aboriginals, this seems at times lost as the author makes references, even in narration, to "bloodthirsty Indians" and "black-braided, fur-wrapped Indian." The teacher, Madame Leblanc, the students, as well as main character, Sarah, draw back in fear and cringe at the mere sight of Chief Annawan. This is not credible and detracts from any positive message the story ultimately delivers.
After having read an excerpt of Jackson's latest work on her website, I must say I am looking forward to her future novels. Despite this review, I expect to see good things from her in the future.
Marina Cohen has a Master's Degree in French Literature from the University of Toronto and has been teaching in the York Region District School Board for 11 years. Her first novel, Shadow of the Moon, and its sequel, Trick of the Light, are scheduled to be released in the spring and fall of 2007.
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