Published by Schwartz & Wade on 10/4/16
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Science Fiction
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: MG (Death of a parent, Some cruelty to animals)
Back to the Future meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in this original, poignant, race-against-time story about a boy who travels back to 1984 to save his father’s life.
My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine and again four years later, when he was twelve. On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his dead father. It directs him to the bunker of their old house, where Al finds a time machine (an ancient computer and a tin bucket). The letter also outlines a mission: travel back to 1984 and prevent the go-kart accident that will eventually take his father’s life. But as Al soon discovers, whizzing back thirty years requires not only imagination and courage, but also lying to your mom, stealing a moped, and setting your school on fire—oh, and keeping your pet hamster safe. With a literary edge and tons of commerical appeal, this incredible debut has it all: heart, humor, vividly imagined characters, and a pitch-perfect voice.
Despite the cute cover and the whimsical title, this book isn’t simply a frivolous romp through time—it has a surprising amount of heart and even heartbreak. The story tells of Al, who receives a letter from his father four years after his father’s death. The letter reveals that Al can essentially bring his father back to life by traveling back in time and preventing an accident that happened all the way back when his father was twelve years old. Of course, at first Al is skeptical, but he soon discovers that it just might be true. Unfortunately, changing the past isn’t quite as simple as it seems, and Al finds himself questioning whether or not changing the past could destroy his future.
What Fed My Addiction:
- Life in all its bittersweet glory. There’s a lot going on in Al’s life (pre-time travel), and not all of it is rosy. Obviously, he’s been dealing with his father’s death, but he’s also adjusting to life with a new stepfather and stepsister, who he has trouble connecting with. Al’s stepfather wants to bond over sports, which Al is distinctly uninterested in. Al’s stepsister, Carly, just plain seems to dislike him most of the time and resents his presence in her life. On top of that, Al is dealing with some minor bullying at his new school, which makes adjusting even more difficult. Still, there are plenty of good relationships and positive aspects of Al’s life to balance out those rougher spots—Al’s Grandpa Byron and his mom are both very close to him and obviously want what’s best for him. I especially loved his grandpa, which brings me to my next point …
- Grandpa Byron. By far, my favorite character in the book is Grandpa Byron. Al’s grandpa is a fun and somewhat eccentric man. He’s Indian and has taught Al quite a bit about Indian traditions, religion and culture. But what makes Byron stand out most is the fact that he has employed ancient Indian memory methods and can remember just about everything—from trivia to the details of his life events. He even wrote a book about those memory methods. When Grandpa Byron suspects that Al might be dabbling in some dangerous territory, he encourages Al to read his book and teaches him that sometimes remembering the past can be the key to living in the present. The relationship between Al and Grandpa Byron is heartwarming, and I loved every minute that they were on the page together.
- Details about time travel. Even though this is a middle grade book, Welford doesn’t just leave out the scientific explanations of time travel or its ramifications. Since Al himself is only twelve, some of the details are hazy to him (and probably to some of the book’s readers as well), but he does gain a basic understanding of the theory of relativity—and kids reading this book will too! And then, of course, there are all of the quandaries that are created with time travel. I especially enjoyed the final quarter of the book when Al had to deal with the results of his time travels.
What Left Me Hungry for More:
- Expectations. The only thing that kept me from completely adoring every moment of this story is the fact that I had a wrong impression going in, and this falsely set my expectations. I was expecting a light, funny read about a kid and a hamster and their madcap adventures through time. What I got was much more poignant than that—a book that seriously (but still middle grade appropriately) addresses the death of a loved one and difficult family relationships. The book also explored the realities of time travel and many cultural aspects of India that I wasn’t expecting. None of these things are bad. In fact, they’re quite good. It’s just that it took me a little while to adjust to the style of the book and realize that this wasn’t going to be a goofy, hilarious book. (Especially since the first few paragraphs actually were very humorous, which further cemented my expectations.) I also expected more of the book to take place in the past.
- Geordie references. I found myself a little confused with the many references to the Geordie accent and setting. I think part of the reason for this was because the first time Geordie was mentioned was in reference to Grandpa Byron, and I thought it was something Indian—or at least somehow foreign since Al himself didn’t seem to have it. Then when it was mentioned again, I was confused. When Al went back to 1985, the Geordie accent was even stronger and people said things like “me mam,” which I’d always associated with more Scottish or Irish accents, so I found myself confused again about where the book was set. (Actually, in the Top Ten Addictions Guest Post below, Melford specifically addresses the accent and where it’s from—too bad I’d forgotten that little tidbit of information when I read the book.) Anyway, I wish that when they published the book in America, they would have added just a line or two to really make it obvious that the Geordie accent was the norm in northeastern England but that it had faded a bit over time. I figured it out, but I doubt my 12-year-old would. (I armed her with that information ahead of time, though.)
This book is a time traveling adventure, but it’s a lot more than meets the eye. It’s a story about growing up and remembering the important moments in life. I give this one 4/5 stars.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author:
Ross Welford was a journalist and television producer before becoming a full-time writer. He lives in London with his wife, children, a border collie and several tropical fish. Ross is the author of Time Travelling With A Hamster, a thrilling, funny and heart-warming middle-grade novel that tells the story of a boy’s quest to live up to his dad’s memory, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, and of a second book, titled What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible, that will be published in the UK in December 2016.