________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 7 . . . . October 14, 2011


Once Every Never.

Lesley Livingston.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2011.
304 pp., pbk., $15.00.
ISBN 978-0-14-317795-1.

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Kris Rothstein.

***½ /4



Clare?” Al was about to lose it.

“Ssh!” Clare tugged Al by the sleeve over behind one of the tall shelves. “What did you see?”

“I told you! You … flickered!” Al’s hands did a spazzy little dance in front of her face like caffeinated butterflies. “And you then went kind of hazy-looking … and then you freaking disappeared. You touched that shield thing and ‘zot’! How did you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

Al looked as if she’d bolt from the room any second.

“I don’t!” Clare sputtered a bit desperately. “All I know is, one second I’m standing here and the next everything’s all tingly and sparkly and … and dark. There’s a crackle of lightning and then I look around and …”

“And what?”

“And I’m standing on a riverbank in the middle of nowhere at night. And there are these guys …”

“What guys?”

“I don’t know. They weren’t speaking English. One of them was big – like huge – and holding that shield thing.” Clare’s gaze drifted back to the table where the artefacts lay. “It looked like he was about to throw it in the river. But the other one … was young. And … and …”

“And what?”


Clarinet Reid (a jokey name from her musical parents) is the kind of girl who thinks museums and history are yawntastic. Clare and her best girlfriend Al are Canadian teens spending the summer in London, chaperoned by Clare’s archaeologist aunt, Maggie. To spice things up, Al’s nerdy cousin, little Milo, has morphed into a “scorching-hot” guy. Clare is in disgrace after a party gone wrong, and she foresees a long boring summer in Merrie Olde England. Meanwhile, brainy Al is actually excited about hanging out at the British Museum and enthused about seeing the new display of preserved peat bodies and Celtic gold. Clare finds that touching these Celtic artefacts sends her into the past where she befriends Princess Comorra and her Druid protector, Connal. With the help of Al and Milo, Clare hopes to somehow change the past in which her new/old friends were slaughtered by the Roman army. She has a lot of obstacles to dodge, not least being the evil Stuart Morholt, an old friend of her aunt, who kidnaps the girls in an attempt to uncover a secret horde of priceless Celtic gold.

      Clare is a very fun and lively character. She is supposed to be lazy, not dumb, but sometimes she is written as a bit more of an airhead than necessary. Al is the brains behind the operation, and she’s an intriguing sidekick, but she is never really developed or rounded out in a satisfying way. As this is projected as a trilogy, I hope Al gets to come into her own a bit more in the next book. Milo is great as the hot smartypants, a whiz with computers and lot of other stuff that goes over Clare’s head. Their romance is witty, sweet and subtle and doesn’t take over too much of the book. The characters in the past are all well realized, as is Clare’s confusing attraction to the Druid who is expected to sacrifice himself to become a ghost warrior for his queen.

      The dialogue is the real gem of the book, and the banter between all the characters sizzles. The dialogue even works well in the scenes set in Celtic Britain and does not seem either stilted or unnaturally modern. Livingston truly has an ear and flair for making these characters come alive through their dialogue, and this makes the book a great read. The descriptive and explanatory prose is also good, and even the scenes which exist essentially to explain history never seem too much like class reading, though they sometimes come close. A lot of readers will find that they do learn something from the book but won’t find that they are hit over the head with facts.

     Mix a reluctant (and non-genius) heroine, a brainy sidekick, witty repartee, reanimated corpses, an English mentor who is a museum curator (who once flirted with dark powers) and you get homage to the TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’re going to reference anything in the genre, this is a great place to start, but there were quite a lot of details that might easily have been lifted from various episodes. This makes the book a little less original than it could have been, but doesn’t make it less entertaining.

     Time travel is hardly a new plot device, but Once Every Never combines all the elements in a new way. Clare’s first experience of time travel takes her to a battlefield where several people seem to know her and who she is. This sets up a mystery and ups the tension. It’s quite funny when the characters discuss the ramifications of Clare’s actions, trying to figure out how she might be changing the present and mostly coming away as confused as they started. In fact, the book is quite a thoughtful reflection of intervening in struggles that are not your own.

      The plot is imaginative, but it does get a little convoluted at times. Clare travels back and forth to the past many times, trying to gather certain bits of information and influence certain events. She does this both to help her friends and under duress when kidnapped by Morholt. So many trips seem a bit unnecessary, and Livingston probably could have smoothed out some transitions and simplified some of the structure of the book. But the storytelling is up to the task, so this doesn’t turn into a major flaw. This is a great book for fans of smart, sassy, supernatural stories.


Kris Rothstein is a children’s book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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