A Crack in the Line, by Michael Lawrence (Harper Collins, 2003 UK, 2004 US, YA, 323 pp)
It was a crack in the line that caused the train accident two years ago that killed Alaric's mother. Now Alaric and his father living in gloom and ever increasing squalor sprawling, in their old family home, Withern Rise. Then one day Alaric wanders into one of the many cold and lonely rooms his mother had loved, where his attention is caught by one of her last great art projects--a scale model of Withern Rise. By some strange twist of fate, it takes him to an alternate time line, one in which his mother didn't die. But instead of an Alaric, that family had a daughter, Naia.
Naia and Alaric are, not unnaturally, dumbfounded when they meet. For Alaric, it is incredibly bitter to see his home as it might have been, still filled with his mother's presence. Fascinated by their glimpses of what might have been, their meetings continue, stretching across possibility. Until (by chance or fate) they push too far, and their lives are altered irrevocably.
Lawrence takes the idea of fates splitting off from each other, and uses it not just to play with the conceit of alternate futures, but to create an incredibly powerful character study of a boy still reeling from his mother's death. His descriptions of the two Withern Rises, Alaric's cold and filthy, Naia's warm and welcoming, are a beautiful materialization of the different lives the two lead--but then, I do have a penchant for books about old houses with lots of rooms.
This is a lovely book for somewhat meditative reading, inspiring, as it does, thoughts about roads taken and not, loss and grief, and old house maintenance. It's fantasy without any epic good vs evil-ness, which is always nice for a change of pace. Not much "happens," in a rushing around doing things sense, except, of course, the travelling to alternate realities part. And maybe that's why the dead guy suddenly showing up toward the end irked me--I was happy with the small intricacies of the two lives being shown me, and didn't feel the need for a deceased ancestor to come along and imply complications to come.
It is easy to begin questioning the exact reasons and mechanisms by which Alaric and Naia travel to their alternate fates, and Lawrence muddies the waters somewhat here, by introducing the aformentioned dead family member lurking on the sidelines. This is book 1 of a series, however, so I'll give him a by into the next round in this regard. The next round being Small Eternities, which I've just requested from the library...(and which I reviewed here).