Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Don't Know Where Don't Know When for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is: 

Laing, Annette. Don't Know Where Don't Know When. Statesboro, Georgia: Confusion Press, 2007. Print. Snipesville Chronicles 1.
[Book cover credit: Provided by the author. Thanks!]

When Hannah and Alex are so rudely torn from their happy lives in San Francisco to move to the middle of nowhere Georgia, Hannah expects her entire life to turn into one huge snooze-fest. They're both forced to go to summer camp at Snipesville State College, where Alex manages to make a friend and Hannah manages to find a Starbucks instead of her camp. When Alex and his new friend Brandon spot Hannah ditching, they decide to join her, and they all end up heading to the library. After finding an WWII identity card in a book and having a weird encounter with a professor, all three decide to head back to the Starbucks. Only when they leave the library, they're no longer in Snipesville and Starbucks hasn't yet been invented.

I'll admit, the opening of this book was a little slow for me. All the time spent with Hannah and Alex before they go back in time (and before they even get to Georgia), didn't really do anything for me. BUT, if you stick it out through Hannah's whining about how unfair her life is (actually, this continues throughout the book), they'll meet up with Brandon and end up in WWII England where things get very cool. In WWII England, Hannah, Alex and Brandon are all evacuees for the London, sent to the English countryside to escape the Blitz (exactly like the Pevensies in The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe!). Hannah and Alex are taken in by an almost welcoming couple. Brandon, who is black, is taken back to London. Though black children were also evacuated during the bombings of London, it was much harder to find people to take them in. Also, black people weren't all that common in England during this time, so Brandon spends the entire book being kind of a novelty. Hannah and Alex are left to get used to the British countryside during the war and desperately try to find out what happened to Brandon in a society that doesn't tell unpleasant things to children. Meanwhile, Brandon runs away from the man who took him back to London and is presumed dead after a bombing.

But he's not dead; he's really in WWI England. He's even in the same town as Hannah and Alex, just 25 years earlier! Brandon manages to find friendly people (with some help) and even a job, but being black is a much rarer thing in 1915 than it was in 1940. And the attitudes toward black people weren't all that great either. In her acknowledgments, Laing states that the past is not particularly politically correct, which is true, and neither is her portrayal of it. The scenes set both in 1915 and in 1940 are rich in historical detail, including the attitudes of the people in them. While Alex seems to go along pretty fine throughout the story, Hannah is constantly bristled by the treatment of children (what she considers a beating, everyone else considers a well-deserved spanking) and Brandon is constantly affected by peoples reactions to him as a "colored" young man. Though Brandon makes it through his time traveling experience suffering from nothing more than hateful words, the black people he meets both during The Great War (WWI) and WWII do not fare as well.

I managed to get completely caught up in this book. There is a story inside a story that needs solving in order for Hannah, Alex and Brandon to make it back to 21st century Georgia, and though they don't understand how or why, it is connected to their present day lives. Also, given that he's in the same town, Brandon's experiences in 1915 England have some really close ties to the people he, Hannah and Alex meet in WWII England. There were so many ways that all of these connections and different-name-same-person instances could have been screwed up or over simplified, but Laing manages to make them all make sense and even manages to make some of them surprising. My only disappointment in this area was Peggy, and it totally wasn't Laing's fault. I simply wanted 1915 Peggy to grow up to be a different person, but not everyone can live up to their full potential (I'm still angry about who she grew up to be, but I don't want to ruin the surprise).

In short, this is a great time travel book. I wasn't so caught up in the logistics of the time traveling that I lost the ability to be caught up in the times where they ended up. It's also a great look at the day-to-day lives of some of the people left behind in England during the fighting of each world war.

Now, about the cover: If you see slightly older reviews of this book around the blogosphere, or even look this book up on amazon (librarything, goodreads, etc.) it has a different cover where the kids are not in silhouette. While I would usually be all for actual kids rather than kid-shaped shadows, especially when one of the main characters is a POC, I really don't like the old cover. It is, to be honest, why it's taken me two months to get around to reading and reviewing this book. The older cover is on the copy I received. It looks so much more like a history book than a time travel history book, and we all know there is a HUGE difference between the two. While Don't Know Where has the potential to be about kids sent to the past to learn all about it, most likely in a school-type setting, that's not what this book ends up being. But that is what the old cover portrays. I don't know why, but the new cover art for the second printing, in addition to matching the cover art on the sequel, gives it more of an adventure or fantasy feel to me. Kid-shaped shadows are a bit cartoon-y, I guess, and apparently that's what I need in order to feel like I haven't been "assigned" a book specifically to learn from it.

And, yes, I've always been a huge fan of historical fiction but hated studying history. How did you know? :)

Book source: Review copy provided by the author. Thanks Annette!


GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I'm glad they changed the cover-I really hated the first one. Glad to hear it's a fun time travel book-I'll have to recommend it to my tweens!

Alison said...

This sounds really interesting. I'll have to look it up.