For this week's time travel book, I offer something you don't see often--a time travel book for teenagers, in which a character from the future returns to his past life as a teenager in the early 21st century: The Long Wait for Tomorrow, by Joaquin Dorfman (2009, Random House, YA, 342 pp)
Kelly is the Golden Boy of his school, the star football player for whom the stars align themselves. Patrick is his faithful, much less cool, follower (he plays saxophone, not football), who has watched through the years as all good things come to Kelly. And one day he watches as Kelly uses his power to torture Edmund, a science-nerd freshman, who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and seen something he shouldn't have.
This was the last day that Patrick's old friend Kelly existed. Because the next morning, the Kelly with whom Patrick found himself was his friend's 40 year-old self--somehow, his spirit had left the mental institution where Kelly had ended up, and travelled back in time. Now New Kelly, with years of life between himself and high school, has a different perspective on things (although some, like the rush of meeting his girlfriend Jenna, are just as good the second time around).
But one thing in particular needs to be changed. After he's accepted the fact that he's back in the past, Kelly wants to fix what happened to Edmund, and alter the course of events that are about to unfold when Edmund takes his revenge. But he doesn't remember what is going to happen, making it hard to change things...
So Patrick and Jenna scramble to cover for the New Kelly as best they can, scramble to make sense of what he's saying, and become ever more desperately involved in trying to right a situation that should never have begun.
I picked this up so as to have a Time Slip Tuesday book on hand. I'm not sure I would have kept reading past the beginning if I didn't have that motivation. But this is one that gathers momentum--by the end I found it a very powerful story. With each day that Kelly is back in the past, the tension builds...until the humdinger of an ending.
The book opens with a scene that makes the central characters impossible to like, and at first they seem like stock characters. Slowly more and more detail is given about them and their relationships to each other that gradually makes them interesting individuals. Patrick and Jenna, that is, become real (although Dorfman takes his time about this); Kelly always seems larger than life, not quite believable, and his behavior to Edmund remains unexplained and unexcused. But to be fair, Kelly is two different people...so it's hard to know just what he thinks.
Time travel-wise, I think Dorfman cheats a bit. He makes it clear that in his version of how things work, the time traveller's memories aren't necessarily intact. Kelly hasn't sent himself back through time to heroically change the past--he can't even remember how events unfolded. This made the story rather frustrating (for Patrick and Jenna, as well as the reader; one presumes Kelly felt frustrated too, although one can't be sure).
But that being said, it's a fascinating take on time travel, especially when it becomes clear that for Kelly there can't be an ending--he's on track to reach 40 again, to find himself in the same mental institution where his time travelling began, to come back to try to change the inevitable...
Even though I have doubts, I'd recommend this one to its intended YA audience (especially teenaged boys). Even though I had my doubts, I read it intently, and put it down with that somewhat stunned feeling one gets after a book packs a punch.
Other reviews at The Book Owl, and one from a 6th grade girl at Book Trends.