Sabotaged, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Sabotaged, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon and Schuster, 2010, middle grade, 360 pages)

It's impossible to say much about this book, the third of a series, without spoiling the first book, Found (my review), and the second, Sent (my review). So if you haven't read those yet, you might want to...

That being said, Sabotaged continues the efforts of time travel oversight personnel to clean up a nasty mess. Famous children in danger of dying had been plucked from their original times, to be sold off as collectors items in the future. That plan ended with a plane load of infants landing in the late 20th century, and now efforts are underway to return these kids, grown up a bit, to their own times.

One of the kids, Jonah, and his modern adopted sister, Katherine, have been tapped to serve as guides back to the past during these return missions. In Sabotaged, they are accompanying a girl named Andrea back into her past as Virginia Dare, the first known English child born in America. But on the way back into the late 16th century, things go terribly wrong, and the helpful device that would tell them what to do is lost.

All is mystery and confusion as the three kids try to figure out where they are and what they are supposed to be doing, in a place and time overshadowed by the ghosts of failed Roanoke colony, and the disastrous impact those colonists had on the native people of the region. Things are complicated by the arrival of a shipwrecked old man, who turns out to be John White, Virginia Dare's grandfather, returning to try to find out the fate of his family. And when two other kids kidnapped from the future appear as well, boys who had been cast away back in time and adopted by the local people (before being kidnapped by the folks plucking kids from the past), things become even more complicated. What, Jonah and Katherine wonder, are they supposed to be doing? (The reader wonders this as well).

And then there is the master puppeteer--the one who instigated the loss of the mechanical device, the one who drops enigmatic notes to the kids. Is this person, who goes by the name "Second," trying to change time for unknown, possible sinister, reasons??!?

It's a fascinating account of what might have happened to the failed Roanoke colony. Haddix does well, I thought, at presenting a balanced view of the encounter between the Algonquins and the English. She manages to convey something of the Algonquian perspective, through the world view of the two boys adopted by local people, ancestors of the Lumbee, without making blanket generalizations about "the Indian side of things." And her lengthy author's note further expands and explains the history embedded in her story.

The snarls of time are rather complicated in this book, and I'm not sure I successfully unraveled them. It doesn't help that the book ends without actually resolving the situation--some things are made clear, but many are not. My confusion, which mirrored that of the characters, kept me from loosing myself in the story.

So, in short, the book as a whole didn't quite work for me. I think I would have felt more tolerant of the confusion of time twisted plot if I had connected more to the characters. The story is told from Jonah's perspective, and I found him unsympathetic (for most of the book, he's busy being confused and put out in a not tremendously intelligent way). And the other characters never quite became sufficiently alive to me to compensate for the deficits I found in Jonah's character.

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