Old Magic, by Marianne Curley (2001, Simon and Schuster, YA) caught my eye when Tirzah over at The Compulsive Reader posted about its re-release with new cover art (shown at left). She described it as "romance with some time travel action", so I was sold.
Kate has had a strange childhood, raised in a remote Australian village by her grandmother, who is a witch. Not your brewing small children in a pot witch, but more a wise woman, who knows old magic...still, when you combine having such a grandmother with having strange powers yourself, it can make for high-school awkwardness. Especially in Kate's case--although her class is very small, her classmates slot themselves neatly into the stereotypes of unpleasant teenagers, with Kate as the outcast.
Then, enter Jarrod, a new kid, strangely mesmerizing, strangely klutzy. Kate knows he has powers of his own, but he denies that magic even exists. But then he is confronted with overwhelming evidence that his family is cursed, and he is forced to accept that magic is real. The only way to break the curse is to travel back to when it began, the middle ages. So Kate's grandmother sends them back in time...to face the evil that awaits them there.
I have to admit to some disappointment here. I never warmed to Jarrod, despite his mesmerizing green eyes, and the romance between him and Kate left me cold (although perhaps if I had read this when I was younger I would have felt differently).
The time travel part of the book was even more disappointing--this is not a convincing picture of life in the middle ages, and my credulity was strained past breaking point. The cliche of miserable peasant existence is in full force:
"The cottages were full of life. It's incredible to think they are filled with people who know nothing of computerised technology, nor even running water, sewage systems, or electricity. And yet here they live. Surviving." (page 167 of 2001 edition)
And Curley's portrayal of life in the castle was not much more nuanced. Not to mention the utter thin-ness of the story Jarrod and Kate use to explain their arrival at the castle door. Oh well.
What this book does have, however, is the most extraordinarily detailed description of the magic Kate's grandmother prepares to bring them back to the present. It involves scrapping a dying marsupial mouse off the side of a vehicle, extracting two dead marsupial mouse foetuses from it, and making them into charms...most odd.
So anyway, this one might be enjoyed by fans of magic and romance who are willing to suspend their disbelief, but I can't recommend it as a time travel book.
Here's the old cover. It is a good thing that it got changed, because it was whitewashed. In the book, much is made of Kate's long, straight, black hair, and the possibility is raised that her father (who didn't stick around) was Asian. The girl on the cover does have long hair (rather unwashed looking), but is white as all get out.