So this morning I had an actual time travel experience--I woke up and it was already eight thirty and we had missed the school bus, but then I really work up and had travelled back in time and it was only quarter to six. Sometimes time travel is a good thing.
For instance, as is the case in Bridge of Time, by Lewis Buzbee (Feiwel & Friends, May 2012, middle grade, 304 pages), time travel may be just what you need to help you cope with your parents' divorce, especially if you get to go hang out with Mark Twain in the past. This is what happens to best friends Joan Lee and Lee Jones. The coincidence of their names is just the tip of the iceberg of their close (non-romantic--they're in middle school still) friendship. And one horrible day another coincidence strikes--both their sets of parents announce they are splitting up.
The next school day just happens to be the class field trip, and Joan and Lee resign themselves to the boredom of yet another trip to the San Fransisco fort they'd seen a bazillion times already. But this time, they find themselves travelling back in time to 1864. Not a good year for being unauthorized visitors in a military fortification. Fortunately, the first person they meet is another person who has come unstuck in time--a friendly man named Sam Clemens (known, in the future, as Mark Twain), who gives them sanctuary.
Unfortunately, even Sam, helpful though he is, can't do anything about the violent racism against the Chinese inhabitants of old San Fransisco, and in fact there are a number of individuals who want to damage Sam in particular for his journalist work in exposing this racism. Joan, being Chinese, is in constant danger...
And on a more personal level, both Joan and Lee are deeply conflicted about going home--neither wants to go back to houses where the word "divorce" is still echoing in the air.
But unless they can fix their minds on sticking back in their own time, they'll be unstuck--passing through a multitude of various San Fransiscos (including a rather exaggeratedly beautiful Native American version). Fortunately, they each get to encounter their older selves, and are comforted thereby. But Sam is another problem--he is busily having a crisis of self-confidence, denying the future he's seen for himself as Mark Twain...
This one falls into two of my roughly delineated time travel categories--the Didactic Experience, and the Mechanism for Personal Growth. At first, what with all the attention paid to "this is San Fransisco in 1864" I found it hard to be deeply involved in the story, and was not sure I liked Joan and Lee (I got tired of the meaningful LOOKS (caps in the original) they kept exchanging). When they unstuck from 1864, the level of excitement picked up as they bounced through time, and the pages turned somewhat faster.
There's some humor, and a bit of mystery (just who is that mysterious man in black, and why is he following Sam around? Why isn't the author making more of him?), and a few mentions of pizza, enough to add a splash of middle grade reader appeal (although, perhaps, not quite enough to carry the book). And it might well resonate deeply with middle grade readers who are themselves feeling unstuck in their lives, particularly those whose parents, like Lee and Joan's, are splitting up.
If I were requiring seventh grade kids to read a historical fiction book, or if I were teaching about racism in the 19th century, I would probably put this one on the reading list. It's also the only time travel book I can think of in with a Chinese American protagonist, and I felt that Joan's experience in the past was nicely done. It's not one, though, that I'd strongly urge adult readers of time slip stories to try--it's just fine, but not desperately magical.
And having typed that, I realize that I have slipped through time again, and it is now almost seven, the bus leaves in 14 minutes, and my child is still asleep. Sigh.