CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 41. . . .June 21, 2013
After a run-in with his gun-wielding ex-foster mother, Nadine, Matt Barnes discovers a microfilm that connects his family to a spy in World War II. In this sequel to Time Meddlers, the first of Deborah Jackson's time-travel series, Matt and Sara discover that Nathan Barnes, Matt's father, is mixed-up with the spy network of war-torn Amsterdam. Using the time-machine invented by Nathan, the time meddling kids launch into a rescue mission to return Nathan to present time. While the characters ultimately fail in their mission, thereby promising more installments in this adventure series, the tricks and twists of their time travels are (mostly) artful and riveting.
The story of their attempt starts slowly but picks up when they get to World War II, immersing them into the English spy network and the Dutch Resistance. In this historical context, the heroes use their knowledge of history and Matt's knack for story-telling to become pseudo-spies. Their travels from England to Holland are dangerous, full of not-so-glamorous pit stops, fights and split-second decision-making. Readers begin to see a change in the two main characters’ relationship, a change which is subtle and with an appropriate amount of embarrassment and charm. The additional menace of their enemy Nadine is compelling – until that menace dissipates.
Jackson has added a new perspective to the series with chapters focussed on the enemy, attempting to create a compelling and sympathetic antagonist with her own motivations and character flaws. Unfortunately, this distracts and detracts from the adventure of the two time-travelling meddlers. Ultimately, Nadine's portion confuses the direction of the story, the lesson and point of the adventure, and confounds the restrictions of time-travel. If Nadine's motivations were left to be revealed at the end, her story would be far more compelling. The meeting and saving of Anne Frank felt like a gimmick, though I was not overly surprised because of the sympathetic direction Jackson was taking with Nadine's character. Meeting historic figures can be delightful in the midst of a time-travel adventure, but Jackson’s telling felt forced and anti-climactic.
Nevertheless, Time Meddlers: Undercover is an enthralling story that will have middle grade readers turning the page to find out what risky situations Matt and Sarah will place themselves in next. The saving of Anne Frank is still enjoyable, and so is speculating about altering past events. The included “Historical Note” discusses Jackson's research for the story, as well as discussion questions and activities for reading groups.
I recommend Time Meddlers Undercover to middle graders who enjoy history (with a little romance), time travel fanatics and those who enjoyed the first installment.
Stephanie Dror is in the MA in Children's literature program at the School of Library and Archival Studies, the University of British Columbia.
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