Alice in Time, by Penelope Bush (Holiday House, 2011/2010 in the UK, younger YA, 196 pages)
Fourteen-year old Alice is not best pleased with her life. Even after seven years, she resents her mother for divorcing her father, leaving Alice to take much more responsibility for her little brother Rory than she thinks is fair. There's not much money, and her mum gets on her nerves. At school she's the target of the class queen-bee mean girl, Sasha. Even though she seems (maybe, she hopes) to be attracting the attention of a cute new boy, it doesn't look like she'll be able to get out of house (what with babysitting Rory while her mum works all hours) long enough to see for sure!
Then Alice falls hard from a merry-go-round in the park (this sort of merry-go-round, which sadly are deemed too dangerous for kids these days in the US, but boy were they fun). When Alice recovers, she finds to her amazement that she is seven years old again. Her parents are still together, and Rory has not yet been born (although it's clear he will be soon).
Obviously she must put things right, and keep her miserable 14-year old life from happening....So she makes a list:
1. Stop Sooty (Alice's beloved cat) from being run over
2. Stop Mum and Dad from splitting up
3. Find a way back to reality
4. Make Sasha's life hell
But 14-year-old Alice gradually realizes that her seven year old self wasn't exactly the best observer of human nature (being seven and all). And (thankfully, because Alice is more than a little self-centered), she realizes that the one thing she can really change is herself....(although she does (slight spoiler put in on behalf of cat lovers) save Sooty). Happily for Alice's mother and Rory, their lives are made rather better in the process of Alice-changing too!
It is not entirely Alice's fault that at fourteen, when we first meet her, she is not a deeply likable character. She is being asked to shoulder a lot of responsibility, which began when her mother suffered serious depression after Rory was born, and her mother, determined not to speak ill of her father, has let Alice continue in willful blindness about her father's shortcomings, and why they divorced. Likewise, the social minefield at school that happened when Alice was seven, and which led directly to Sasha's enmity was a tricky one for a kid to manage successfully.
Fortunately, seven-year old Alice, seeing things through older eyes, does a lot of growing up--instead of feeling sorry for herself, she learns to take action. Although the ending is rather dizzying, when Alice returns to her present to find many things changed, it's rather satisfying (especially for Alice's Mum and Rory).
I love the premise of this one, and thought Penelope Bush did a lovely job with the disorientation of a teenager back in her childhood body, having her hair washed for her, heading off to primary school, and being given back the loving relationship with her mother that her adolescent discontent had spoiled.
Despite the fact that Alice will never be a personal favorite character, and I thought it took too long for her fourteen-year-old self to get whacked on the head (it happens on page 83), this was a book I read in a single sitting, with great interest and enjoyment.
It's a younger YA book, inasmuch as Alice is just beginning the YAish romantic relationship thing--so I'd have no compunctions about giving this to an older middle grade kid (ie, an 11 year old). In fact, that younger reader would probably enjoy the book more--an older reader might be too cynical to believe the changes wrought by Alice's revelations about herself, her family, and her friends.
(side note for those irked by the Americanization of English books--I didn't notice much attempt to change the original UK text--it would have been an incredibly tricky job, what with pubs (Alice's father), and all the different school year terminology. However, I bet the playground merry-go-round was a roundabout!).
Other reviews at Ms. Yingling Reads and Becky's Book Reviews