Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Dead Boys - 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:

Buckingham, Royce. The Dead Boys. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons - Penguin Young Readers Group, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/9872472]

When Teddy moves to the small town of Richland so that his mother can work at the nuclear power plant upstream, he is inexplicably drawn to the abandoned house and HUGE tree next door. But when he wakes up in the middle of the night to find tree branches sneaking through his bedroom window trying to get to him, he realizes the tree is much more dangerous and sinister than he could ever have imagined.

This book is pretty creepy. For me, the creepiness was compounded by the "about the author," which appears at the beginning of my ARC, telling a bit about Buckingham's childhood in Richland, downstream from a nuclear power plant and with a huge and gnarly sycamore tree in his back yard. If this ends up coming at the end of the published book, I think it'll add a little chill after everything is over and done with. Because I read it at the beginning, I kept thinking, "This is a real place!" even if the things happening in it are clearly fiction.

Warped by toxic nuclear waste that was dumped into the river during the Manhattan project, the tree next to Teddy's house has decided that it no longer likes to draw it's energy from the sun and the water. It likes to suck energy from twelve-year-old boys. And it's been doing just that for decades. Teddy, new to town, is looking to meet new friends and runs into a few of the trees past victims. At first these boys seem a bit odd to him, but not so out of place that he doubts their existence. The bell bottoms and "wiseacre" sayings were a big tip-off to me that these kids were visiting from the past, but middle grade readers might, like Teddy, just think he's moved into a tiny town in the middle of nowhere and so a little behind the times.

Teddy is slow to figure out what is really going on, but not so slow that I wanted to shake him. Near misses with the tree also kept the suspense at a high, distracting me from Teddy's sometimes sluggish sleuthing. By the time he gets it all sorted out, Teddy is either going to be the tree's next victim or the tree's downfall. In trying to save himself, he has to decide if he wants to/can also save the boys who have been trying to help the tree, the only kids he's met at all in Richland.

Again, this was a creepy book. Those chapters about the tree breaking in to Teddy's window while he's sleeping are best not read right before bed. Surprising choices about loyalty and doing what is right verses doing what is best for you right now make The Dead Boys a slightly more substantial read than your average horror book.

The Dead Boys comes out this Thursday!

Book source: ARC picked up at ALA

Friday, August 27, 2010

Infinite Days

Maizel, Rebecca. Infinite Days. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/9793458]

Lenah's life as a vampire was one full of misery, her own and the misery she inflicted on her thousands of human victims over the centuries. Then, after a century long nap, she wakes up as a human. The torment of the vampire existence is gone, replaced by the range of feelings and senses we humans take for granted. But Rhode, her maker and soul mate, site in front of her dying so that she can live again. A new kind of misery. But Lenah is now human and humans are resilient creatures with much shorter memories than vampires. If Lenah can make a life for herself in the boarding school in which Rhode has left her, maybe she can survive without him and in spite of all the other vampires she has left behind.

Woohoo! The vampire is scary again! This is not a horror book because Lenah is no longer a vampire, but in her flashbacks to her former un-life, she is eeevil. But Lenah, and her coven of sexy vampire men, still have a few tricks up their sleeves, such as the one that allows Lenah to be human again. I love that Maizel added to vampire lore and myth without completely ignoring traditional vampire tales. This allowed her to focus on what made Lenah and her coven different from traditional vampires without making that the focus of the story. Unfortunately, even though it wasn't the focus of the story, the vampire parts were my favorite parts.

Lenah as a human was not my favorite person. I wouldn't say Lenah as a vampire was my favorite either because she, you know, ate people for fun, but at least she was interesting. I get that having just watched the love of her un-life sacrifice himself for her, Lenah wouldn't be the peppiest person on the quad. I also get that having been unconscious for 100 years, Lenah finds a lot of things weird, offensive, alien, whatevs. I'm fine with all of that. And so is Tony, the cute Japanese-American scholarship student who befriends her. Even though odd things are always coming out of her mouth and she never seems to know what's going on even though she's obviously a smarty-pants, Tony takes Lenah under his wing, shows her around campus, teaches her how to drive (Rhode left Lenah a seriously amazing car, in addition to the steamer trunk full of cash in her PRIVATE APARTMENT on the top floor of her boarding school dorm), and inducts her into the woes of bathing suit shopping. He's the best best friend a girl could ask for, especially a girl in Lenah's situation.

When Tony falls in love with Lenah, she knows about it but doesn't acknowledge it. No problems there. Things like this happen. And it's awkward. Instead, broody Lenah who wears all black, works in the library, and whose biting wit is almost as evil as her former, well, bite, falls in love with The Jock. You know the one. He's the star of everything he touches, all the guys want to be him, all the girls want to do him, and he's dating the hottest girl in school. In his defense, Justin does not fall into the 80s movie stereotype of a jock; he really is a nice guy (except for the fact that he continues dating the hottest girl in the school while he pursues Lenah, right up until the moment when he knows he's won Lenah over and it's safe to dump the girlfriend, but that's a whole different rant). When Lenah and Justin finally get together, it's like everything clicks into place for Lenah. She's no longer a stranger in a strange land. No transition, no learning stuff, she just all of a sudden belongs in a New England boarding school in 2010. It's like magic (barf). But Justin's nowhere near as in tune to Lenah as Tony is, and she ditches Tony for him. She doesn't just choose Justin over Tony romantically, that I would have been fine with as it's almost never a good idea to date your friends. Instead, Lenah pulls an "If you can't immediately and 100% support my true lurv that I just discovered yesterday, even though we both know that you're secretly in love with me and this might be hard for you, then we can't be friends."

Tony, my favorite character in the whole book, the only one besides (dead) Rhode that I really liked, just fell out of the book. And I sort of lost my interest.

But the vampire lore was pretty cool, as were the flashbacks to Lenah's un-life (and don't worry, Maizel is not nearly as dorky as I am and does not refer to it that way). Rhode and Tony are both drool-worthy side characters and make the book worth reading, at least for me. And the ending is really intense. I have no idea how it is a set-up for the start of a series, though. The end seemed pretty definitive to me, but in a world where vampires can return to human form, I guess nothing is really all that permanent.

Book source: Review copy from the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Submarine Outlaw - 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:

Roy, Philip. Submarine Outlaw. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2008. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/5509071]

Alfred lives with his grandparents in Dark Cove, a small town in Newfoundland. All the men of Dark Cove are fishermen, and it looks as though this will be Alfred's destiny as well. But to be a fisherman, looking out at the sea from the relative safeness of a fishing boat, never straying far from the coastline and certainly never going into the water (most of the fishermen cannot swim even though they spend most of their lives on the water), would kill Alfred. He wants to be an explorer and he wants to explore the depths of the sea. This is where Ziegfried comes in. This intimidatingly large and gruff owner of a junkyard happens to be a mechanical genius. He agrees to help Alfred build a submarine for one, allowing Alfred to escape his grandfather's fishy wishes for him pursue fishy dreams of his own.

Okay, guys, I'll admit it. I was worried about this one. Realistic fiction about a kid who, with the help of a junkyard maven, turns an oil tank into a working submarine? I'm all for fantasy, but huge suspensions of disbelief in a story that is supposed to be realistic, of the kind I thought I was going to have to make right there in the first chapter, are not my forte. But then Ziegfried started, matter of factly, building a submarine out of an oil tank. There are almost 80 pages of the building and testing of this submarine, a lot for a 250 page book. It makes for a slow start to the story, but not a slow start for the book. Ziegfried explains everything he's doing as he goes along, ostensibly so that Alfred will be able to handle minor repairs on his own at sea, but really so that we readers will not have to make that huge jump on our own. It's so interesting to read about all the ways he's making sure things float and sink when you want them too, and it is, to my limited mechanical knowledge, pretty realistic.

Once the submarine is built, Alfred is off! Along the way he picks up a seagull and a dog, meets a lady who lives alone on an island save her own menagerie of furry and feathered companions, rescues a family at sea, finds some treasure, and gets chased by the coastguard, navy, and excited locals. He gets to have the adventure that being a fisherman would have denied him. Looking back, the whole thing is a bit episodic, but while reading, the story is not the least disjointed. The connecting theme is Alfred's realization that the actions of his 14 year old self in his little tiny submarine have consequences, good and bad. Over the course of the novel he learns how to weigh his choices before rushing into a decision, who to trust to help him, and that other people (and a bird and a dog) are counting on him. Basically, during his year at sea, he grows up.

Did I mention that Alfred is 14? The book opens shortly before his 13th birthday, there is a year of simultaneously going to school and building the submarine, and then a year at sea, coming home just before everything freezes. In the beginning, Alfred was a believable 12 year old, and it is clear that the intended audience for this book is also. By the end, he seems a bit older and wiser than 14 at times. I have no doubt, however, that the following books will keep the tweener feel, even as Alfred continues to age and mature.

Also, it's easy to forget that Alfred's still a teenager when he's not going to school. His grandfather was going to make him drop out of school to become a fisherman at 14 anyway, but I wish that there was an option for his life that allowed him to stay in school. Instead, when it is suggested that he return to school, the argument is made that "I was already a man, no longer a boy. What I was learning no school could teach" (219). Until that line, dropping out of school was kind of a side consequence of growing up in Dark Cove, not of being an explorer, and a consequence that was easily forgotten. I wish the author had let me forget it if the issue wasn't actually going to be resolved or changed. Still, this is a small complaint about a book that I really did like reading. The descriptions of how the submarine worked as well as the life at sea and along the coast of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were incredibly interesting and often beautiful. This series will be a hit with readers interested in oceanography, treasure-hunting (but not pirates), and the general way things work. I can't wait to read about Alfred's next adventure, which will take him a bit farther from home and the relative safety of the coast.

If you need another reason to read this book, the paper it is printed on is made of 100% post-consumer waste! It doesn't really have anything to do with the story, clearly, but it's definitely a practice that should be applauded!

I'll be reading and reviewing the second book in this series, Journey to Atlantis, in the next couple of weeks. The third book in the series, River Odyssey will be available from the publisher's website in September and at amazon shortly thereafter!

Book source: Review copy from publisher

Happy Mockingjay Day!

Hopefully I am, right at this minute, marching into Barnes and Noble to claim my copy of Mockingjay
Notification phone call be damned.
Or I'm sleeping through my alarm.
Either way, my Tween Tuesday post is going to be a bit late.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


O'Brien, Caragh M. Birthmarked. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/9117047]

Gaia has just finished her first delivery as a midwife rather than a midwife's assistant. The birth goes well, but Gaia must take the baby. The first three babies delivered by each midwife must be surrendered to the Enclave. Every month. And no matter how badly she feels for the mother who loses her baby, Gaia knows she must do her duty. Besides, everyone knows that advanced children, once surrendered babies, who grow up in the affluence of the Enclave are much better off. They never go hungry or thirsty like children in Wharfton often do. With these thoughts swirling in her head, Gaia heads home, only to find no one there. Her parents have been taken by the Enclave. Unlike the baby Gaia has just advanced, her parents need to be rescued.

Set on the shores of Unlake Michigan, this dystopian world has me hooked. Following some kind of environmental fallout that resulted in not nearly enough water to go around, the difference between the haves and the have-nots grows much more pronounced. What used to be the northern United States becomes something resembling a feudal city-state. The have-nots in Wharfton, where Gaia lives, depend on the "good people" of the Enclave for water to survive. And a bleak survival it is. Gaia and her parents do alright; there are only three of them and both her parents work, her mother as a midwife and her father as a tailor. Gaia's new status as a full midwife should have brought her family the Wharfton version of luxury: plenty of water and extra passes to the local entertainment center, Tvaltar. The Enclave also could not exist without those in Wharfton. Though there are bakers, tailors, and other services available right inside the wall, the people of Wharfton provide much of the labor and services the Enclave requires.

And the babies. The people of Wharfton also provide Enclave families with babies.

At first I thought this was going to be a situation like that in The Handmaid's Tale where most women become sterile and those who still can are pressed into service as babymakers. That is not the case here, though why the Enclave needs Wharfton babies remains a mystery for most of the book. Many people on both sides of the wall believe, like Gaia herself, that the children sent to the Enclave are simply lucky, even while their parents are left heart-broken; they have a chance at a much easier life. The Protectorat, the ruling class of the Enclave, have a much more complicated need for children born in Wharfton. Luckily (not really) Gaia is caught pretty early on on her attempt to rescue her parents and so gets to meet the key people behind the "advancement" program.

After Gaia is captured in the Enclave, where she has no right to be, she learns so much more about the history of her society and world than she could have imagined. She learns just how the Enclave uses those in Wharfton and the vital part she and her mother play in that relationship as midwives. She learns that her parents, who she trusted implicitly and thought she knew inside and out, hid very important things about themselves and their family from her. She learns what they hid about her own past. And during all of this acquisition of knowledge, she makes some unlikely allies inside the wall and, of course, falls in love with an especially broody, high-ranking member of the military who seems to hate her and yet find her interesting.

It's a lot for one girl to go through. And it's all a set-up. It was an emotional thrill ride the whole way through with an ending just barely satisfying enough to not make me want to tear my hair out.

I can't wait for Book 2.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Girl Next Door

Castrovilla, Selene. The Girl Next Door. Lodi, NJ: WestSide Books, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/9838360]

Sam and Jesse have been best friends since they bumped strollers in the elevator of their building. They've grown up doing everything together, and though Sam has been in love with Jesse since that fateful day when they were two, Jesse sees Sam as the girl next door, not girlfriend material. All that changes when Jesse gets sick. He cuts everyone out of his life except Sam. Suddenly, without the distraction of the rest of the world, he sees her for what she's always been: perfect for him. But will Sam ever believe that he's really in love with her and this isn't just a romance of convenience? And will that even matter if Jesse never gets better?

When I was in junior high, I was really into books where someone dies. Kids with cancer, car accidents, loving but ancient grandparents; these were my books. I don't know why, but I loved sad books. Girl Next Door is the more grown-up version of those books. Death is more than a possible ending for this book; it is practically the setting and a main character as well. Jesse and his mother are, of course, consumed by Jesse's sickness, but so is their housekeeper Maria, Sam, and Sam's mother and little brother. Sam especially. She starts to fail out of school, she moves into Jesse's room, and she lets everything that is not Jesse fall to the wayside. She desperately wants Jesse to live, but she knows that it's very possible that she has years and years to catch up on things like high school while she may only have months (if she's lucky) to spend time with Jesse.

It is unbearably sad.

More sad than the situation itself is the way that Sam deals with it. She truly becomes a shell of herself, her sole purpose to make Jesse as happy and as comfortable as possible. The prime example of this, and one that causes more than a few problems for both Jess and Sam, is that she crawls into bed with him based on nothing more than her lifelong crush and Jesse's wish to not die a virgin. He doesn't fall in love with her until afterward. With that kind of a set-up, of course she doubts Jesse's feelings for her! She's available and willing to put out (and make sandwiches and clean up when he pukes them up later) all the time. Even though her doubts linger for a whole lot of the book, Sam never backs up, sets boundaries, or ASKS Jesse about his feelings for her. She just clings to him all the more. When her mother finally notices that Sam has gone to the bad place over Jesse and over Jesse's illness and makes Sam see a therapist, Sam won't go without Jesse.

Sam's so desperate throughout the whole book, not only to have Jesse live but to be Jesse's whole life the way he has become hers. To be honest, it made me uncomfortable. I wanted for someone, her mom, her therapist, Jesse, to make Sam see that she needed to be her own person in order to survive when Jesse may not. They all tried, but it never really sunk in. Even when things start to get a little bit better, Sam is still all about Jesse. Their relationship becomes more healthy than it is in the beginning, but Sam is never just Sam. All about the ending spoiler: I think if the book allowed us to see Sam after Jesse's death and see her grow from this experience a bit, it wouldn't be so bad. Even on his deathbed, Jesse is trying to explain to Sam that she needs to go on and she is quoting the "Evermore" lines from a poem he wrote to her. I know that the end is peaceful, but as it is written, I have no faith that Sam will be able to pull herself out of her grief and do all the things she promised Jesse that she would: finish high school, go to college, fall in love again.

Still, I don't know that teen readers will have the qualms about Sam that I do, and even with my worry for Sam and discomfort over the way she was portrayed, I was totally sucked into this story. I cried. And I would have eaten this book up when I was in junior high/early high school. It is a really good sad story.

Book source: Review copy from publisher

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Touch Blue - 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:

Lord, Cynthia. Touch Blue. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/9923239]

Losing a best friend can feel like losing the whole world, even though you're not. But when Tess's best friend Amy moves off the tiny island they called home Tess and the rest of the kids on the island really do almost lose it all. Without Amy and her four siblings, the state of Maine cannot justify keeping the island school open and Tess's mom employed as the teacher. With no school and no job for her mother, Tess, her little sister Libby, and their parents will have to move to the mainland. Then the Reverend comes up with a plan to save the school: bring five foster kids to the island, enough to keep the school open. So Tess's family, along with a few others on the island, makes room in their home and their lives for a foster child, Aaron. He'll get a home with a real family, and they'll get to stay on the island. The island families will be getting what they want and helping others in the process, and there's no rule against that, is there?

Tess certainly has a lot of worries. Not only has her best friend leaving left her without a companion all summer (and we won't even talk about how Amy's letters to Tess have become less and less frequent), but it could cause her to lose her whole life as she knows it. And Tess cannot have that. She's happy on the island, loves being able to see the ocean all around her. She loves going lobstering with her father all summer long, and she loves going to school in a one-room schoolhouse with every other kid on the island. Losing all of that to move to a landlocked town where all the kids already know each other and don't need a lobster girl for a friend would be devastating.

Tess is all for the plan to save the school and is excited to have a foster kid stay with her family. She has read plenty of books about foster kids (apparently the state cannot afford to keep a one-room schoolhouse on this island, but a well-stocked library is no problem). In her mind, Aaron is the 12 year old boy version of Anne of Green Gables and she cannot wait to have a bosom friend again to run around the island with. As Aaron spends more time on the island, Tess has to admit that he is more Gilly Hopkins than Anne. Then, finally, she realizes that he isn't a character from a book (ha), but a kid who misses the life he left behind just as much as she would miss her island if she had to leave it.

Aaron and the other foster kids try to settle into life on the island, and Tess, her family, and the rest of the island start to accept the foster kids as their own. And somewhere along the way Aaron and Tess become friends. For so much of the book, Tess is grasping at straws with Aaron, afraid to offend him or trying to shield him from other people on the island, and Aaron is so stand-off-ish and hesitant to let Tess or her family in. Then they finally share a secret. He lets his guard down a little and she starts treating him like any other friend. I wanted SO BADLY for things to work out for them, even as I thought that their secret plan to make things right was a horrible idea. Lord has managed to create two compelling characters in a small amount of time, and she does it through, really, a series of tiffs and misunderstandings. The fact that these normal kids are in this bizarre situation where Tess's continued happiness requires that Aaron not attain what he dreams to be his (being reunited with his family and mainland life) makes it all the more interesting and complicated.

Still, in the end Touch Blue ends up being a sweet story about two kids dealing with BIG things like adults that let you down and situations that are beyond anyone's control. But it's also about lobsters, good luck charms, and a five year old sister who always wants to play Monopoly.

Touch Blue was released August 1st and is now available for purchase!

Book source: Picked up at ALA

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Dead-Tossed Waves

Ryan, Carrie. The Dead-Tossed Waves. New York: Delacorte Press - Random House Children's Books, 2010. Print. The Forest of Hands and Teeth 2.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/8363459]

Gabry always follows the rules, does what she's supposed to. She's grown-up watching her mother kill the Mudo that wash onto the beach at every high tide; she knows that the rules are there to keep her safe and she knows the consequences for breaking them. Still, she lets herself be convinced to climb the barrier to hang out under the ruins of a roller coaster with a bunch of other kids. Cira, her best friend is going and so is Catcher, Cira's big brother and the object of Gabry's secret affection. Everything starts out perfection. She even gets some alone time with Catcher, which is why she's so far from the rest of the group and able to escape back to Vista when a Breaker shows up, biting and infecting Gabry's friends.

I wasn't that big of a fan of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and when this book, its sequel, finally came out, I decided I wasn't going to bother. But there is was, staring at me from the library shelves, and I had to grab it. TFoHaT left me with lost of questions about the Sisterhood, life after the return, and the survival of Mary and crew. And I wanted answers, dammit! The Dead-Tossed Waves held the possibility of answers and a story about the new generation of folks post-return besides. On some level it delivered, but on another, not so much.

All of my leftover questions from TFoHaT were answered, kind of, all in about 5 pages towards the end, and those answered were satisfying. Buuut those answers did not justify the rest of the book for me. There was less monotony and repetition in this book than in the last; really and truly a lot happened. Buuut it still didn't do it for me. A lot of the book was Gabry's reactions to what was going on around her, especially what went on between her and Catcher and her and new guy Elias. And, well, I didn't like being in Gabry's head. There were SO MANY TIMES that I wanted to shake her because she would read a situation as completely opposite of how I read it and/or completely opposite of what was actually going on. It helped to build tensions and intrigue the first couple of times she thought one of the boys was disregarding her or brushing her off when in actuality they were trying to profess their undying love, but when it happened EVERY TIME THEY TALKED, it got a little old.

And I have lingering questions. Again. These questions might convince me to pick up The Dark and Hollow Places when it comes out next March, but little else will.

Book source: Philly Free Library

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!