CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 25. . . .March 2, 2012
Edge of Time.
Susan M. MacDonald.
St. John's, NL: Breakwater Books, 2011.
271 pp., pbk., $15.95.
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Charlotte Duggan.
An odd feeling crept over his skin the more he looked. Something really bad would happen if the sparkles touched him. Alec slid onto his back, easing away without taking his eyes off the shimmering. He glanced under the bunk as briefly as possible. Riley was on the floor on the other side. She was yelling something he couldn't hear and waggling her fingers, encouraging him to slide under the bunk towards her.
He didn't hesitate. He thrust out his arm to her.
The shimmering lights moved closer.
Alec's fingers touched Riley's and he clasped tightly.
Alec is a troubled teen. Bored and angry, he's about to commit a petty theft in a music store as this entertaining first novel by Newfoundland author Susan MacDonald begins. But the shoplifting plan ends in violence and confusion when an eerie, blank-eyed punk points a gun at Alec. Alec is saved by a second mysterious stranger who throws him to the floor, pulls a weird, glowing glass ball from his pocket and uses it to kill the punk. As Alec lies stunned and terrified on the floor, the stranger "hisses in his ear, 'Next time Alec…they won't miss.'"
Readers meet a second troubled teen, a goth-styled girl named Riley, in a second violent and frightening incident that ends with the mysterious stranger again coming to the rescue. This time he teleports Alec and Riley to safety. The explanation behind all this weirdness – the attacks, the mysterious stranger and his equally mysterious glass ball weapon, his ability to teleport, and so much more – is the business of this action-packed adventure story, The Edge of Time.
Thrust into the middle of a war between two alien forces, Alec and Riley must overcome their doubt and fear while they simultaneously master the skills they will need to defeat the enemy. But just who is the enemy? The answer for both of these teens is that, up until now, just about everybody has seemed like an enemy. Alec's hostile and impoverished home life has damaged his ability to trust. And Riley, too, has her issues, particularly with authority figures. Now the pair must quickly come to terms with an alarming new paradigm that requires them to conform to the rules and philosophy of the odd, cult-like community of aliens- the apparent good guys in this battle for Earth.
But there are far too many energy-robbing minor characters. And when Alec and Riley finally arrive at the base, it becomes challenging to distinguish the many characters from one another.
This is unfortunate because the story is most interesting when either Alex or Riley is featured. Here's Alec as he struggles with the cognitive dissonance of his new situation:
These guys were aliens. Darius had saved his life. Someone was really trying to kill him. Riley was pretty cute. He was kidnapped. He had some kind of power that other people wanted…
And now Riley at the same point in the novel, but at a different stage of acceptance:
These idiots had another thing coming if they thought she was going to jump on their bandwagon that easily. If she could stand firm through two years of her soon-to-be-stepmother's constant criticism, she could resist anything.
The plot also suffers from too many complications and some unevenness. Getting to the safety of the base involves a trip to Halifax followed by a harrowing sea voyage. Once at the base, there are power struggles between the many minor characters, not to mention romance and political intrigue. The orb, featured on the book cover, has powers that are strange and seem unpredictable. And the sparkles, mentioned in the excerpt above, seem more Disney-like than frightening, as they are clearly meant to be.
But there is also a lot to enjoy about this book. Alec and Riley are very likeable, and readers come to care about their personal problems and issues. Their struggles with the terrifying events in which they find themselves are exciting and engaging and, ultimately, very satisfying. There is also plenty of action that is often well-told and exciting. Readers who enjoy adventure and action will be glad as the novel ends with just the slightest hint of more to follow.
Charlotte Duggan is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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