Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur (Wendy Lamb Books, August 2013, middle grade), is a gentle sort of time slip book with a very intriguing premise.
The story begins with Sienna's family moving from Brooklyn to an old Victorian house on the coast of Maine. Sienna doesn't mind--she welcomes the chance for a fresh start with kids who don't think she's weird (she sees things no one else can, and gathers old, abandoned things to care for). But the move is mostly for her brother's benefit-- the family hopes that the change will give three-year-old Lucca the change he needs to start to talk again after a year of silence.
In the closet of her new room, Sienna finds a pen, left there years ago, and when she writes with it, another girl's words come out on the pages. Sarah lived in the house during World War II...and through the journal entries that come from the pen, Sienna learns about her life, and how, when her brother, Joshua, went of to fight, Sarah stopped talking.
Sienna in the present is given the chance to make friends with kids her own age...who might prove to be real friends if they aren't scared off by her strangeness...and all the while she works hard to be a good sister to Lucca, trying to stave off the desperate worry that his silence is all her fault.
And all the while her worry about Sarah grows, as the pen writes the story of Sarah's life. To help Sarah, and maybe her brother Lucca, speak again, Sienna must do more than allow the pen to write the past. She must go back herself, and help Joshua, a wretched shell of himself after the horrors of war, tell Sarah what she needs to hear so that she can speak.
It was a good, engrossing read, with a captivating storyline. I feel I should have loved it--nice time travel, nice characters, nice place--yet it didn't quite make it into my heart. I'm never entirely sure why this happens with books, but I've come up with a few possible reasons for this one.
I'm a very visual reader, and I love books that make pictures in my mind. Drafting this review in my head, it occurred to me that I had left the story with no mental image of the house at all. I love "moving into old house" books, and reading all the minuscule details of nooks and crannies and old cupboards...but this house is simply described as "an old Victorian," and that's pretty much it. So that was disappointing. This isn't the book's fault; it's me as a reader.
Sarah's story back in the past was much more emotionally gripping than Sienna's present--making new friends actually goes very well for Sienna, despite the fact that she is rather passive about it, whereas Sarah is caught in a situation of serious emotional blackmail that pulled at my heart-strings. Sienna takes a pretty passive approach to the historical mystery as well; she does undertake a bit of historical detective work, but mostly she just lets the timeslip pen do most of the work of finding out about the past. And the pen isn't made special enough--it is just a handy plot device of little emotional zing.
Finally, I just couldn't be satisfied with the easy resolution to Lucca's mutism, even though it makes sense in the context of the fantastical elements of the story; it was a problem too easily solved, and not sufficiently explained, for me to accept it.
So no, it wasn't one I loved, but it was one I enjoyed and read pretty much in a single sitting. So if a somewhat gently-paced timeslip focusing on characters past and present sounds appealing, do try it. You might love it; Publishers Weekly did, and gave it a starred review.