The Moon Over Crete, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Moon Over Crete, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan (1996, Smooth Stone Press), is a slightly older children's time travel story, interesting for several reasons.

It's the story of a modern girl, 11-year-old Lily, whose mom is Indian American, and whose dad is European American.  Lily is finding it difficult being a girl--her best friend is interested in dressing to impress boys, a boy in her class is sexually harassing her and no one is doing anything about it, her mother isn't letting her do things (like go exploring off in the woods) that she'd be allowed to do if she were a boy.  Lily's flute teacher, Mrs. Zinn, is the only one who seems to understand Lily's growing resentment.

And happily for Lily, Mrs. Zinn is a time-traveler, fond of visiting ancient Crete, where (in this fictional world) there is almost utopian gender equality.  Mrs. Zinn offers Lily the chance to go to ancient Crete with her for a few weeks,  and Lily accepts.  Having an experienced adult guide on hand, who has a host family ready and willing, who speaks the language, and who can reliably get you home again, is really unusual in middle grade time traveling, and it sure does make Lily's trip to the past a lot easier than most!

Lily, who is introduced as Lebanese to explain her dark hair and complexation (which I found a bit odd, because the Creteans weren't exactly blond and blue eyed themselves)  finds herself quite taken with ancient Crete.  She notes that even women who are unattractive to her modern eyes have men who find them desirable.  It's hard to tell the prepubescent boys from the girls, as clothing and hairstyles aren't particularly gendered.  Women and men do the same work.  The community shares resources equitably.  Women have power, both in the mundane and in the religious sphere. Basically, it's utopian as all get out.

She can't help but be bothered, though, by her knowledge that ancient Crete is about to fall victim to both a devastating earthquake and to an invasion and hostile takeover by a society that isn't as enlightened.  Can she tell the Queen what's going to happen, and save this society that values women and men equally?

No she can't; they already know through prophetic dreams what's going to happen.  The best Lily can do is take back to her own time the knowledge that it doesn't have to be the case that men call all the  shots.  And the point of the book is to teach this to the reader.

It's not subtle.  And though of course it's not a bad concept, and lord knows smashing the patriarchy is an appealing idea, it gives the book such a tight focus on this one thing that other things that make a story good (like strong character development, interesting plot elements involving risk and uncertainty, and, for time travel in particular, cultural dislocation more generally) are lacking.  The inclusion of Mrs. Zinn as mentor and travel guide made it all too easy for Lily, who also was able to pick up enough Cretian to talk comfortably with the locals in about two weeks.  Ancient Crete was such a magical fairytale place that it had no depth to it.  It was too much, sort of a candy-land utopia, and so not very interesting.

It wasn't a bad read, and certainly well-intentioned, and I agree with the message, but I wanted more from it than it delivered.  Give it to girls fascinated by goddess societies and magic, who may well love it....

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like this one could have used some developmental editing. It's good to know about it though. Thanks for the post.


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