Science-fiction, time-travel, action-adventure, YA romance
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Copy from Author
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
A time machine snatches fifteen-year-old, twin sisters, Sheridan and Taylor, and catapults them to a frightening, dystopian society four centuries in the future within the former United States. It’s a one-way trip with no means to return home, and their only hope for survival is to rely on their intelligence, courage, and personal integrity–and the vital assistance of a mysterious teenage boy named Echo.
I rarely read adult science fiction, especially dystopian novels, but I do occasionally read books of that type if they are written as teen novels, and especially if the YA author is someone whose work I greatly enjoy. C.J. Hill AKA Janette Rallison is one of those authors. Under her own name of Rallison, she has written many hilarious, YA, romantic comedies. In contrast, her fantasy/sci fi novels written under the Hill pseudonym are thrilling dramas with only occasional comic relief, as is the case with this book.
Whether the novel is comedy or drama, one thing a reader can count on from Rallison are stories of great emotional depth with the very moving theme of healing and redemption. As a result, her books invariably produce the much coveted response in readers of, “I laughed, I cried, I sighed.” Before I read this book, I considered Hill/Rallison one of the most talented YA authors writing today, and this book has only reinforced that opinion. I consider every book she’s written for young adults, as well as this one, a “keeper.”
Hill/Rallison does an outstanding job of characterization in this book. Her main characters and important secondary characters are strongly and convincingly drawn, and Echo and Sheridan are quite sympathetic.
Most adult romance novels over the past almost thirty years have been written in the dual point of view (POV) of the heroine and her romantic interest, but currently very few YA romances are written this way. Instead, the primary convention is to use a single, first-person (“I”) POV. I was delighted to discover that Rallison offers both the POV of Echo and of Sheridan. There is no confusion at all to the reader when the POV switches, because she employs only one POV per chapter, and each chapter is headed with the name of the POV character. It added immensely to my enjoyment of this story having Echo’s POV. He is a fascinatingly complex character. If the publisher had created a cover strongly featuring Echo, there is a good chance that teen boys might have read and enjoyed this book because of him. Unfortunately, both the cover featuring the two sisters and the way the book has been marketed essentially insures that the vast majority of readers will be teen girls and adult women and few boys or men will be likely to read it.
Another happy difference in this novel is that, unlike the majority of YA romances these days, it does not imitate Twilight and throw in a third-wheel romantic interest to create a romantic triangle.
The world-building of this book is outstanding. The explanation for the creation of the time machine is unique and plausible, and the transportation, architecture, commerce, food, clothing and entertainment choices of the citizens of Echo’s society are all shown in enough detail to make this world come vividly to life. The political power structure and the means it utilizes for controlling its citizens are convincingly drawn with a fascinating use of technology for both mind control and brute force. The author also offers a much more understandable historical justification for the loss of democracy over time than many other YA dystopians I’ve read.
One aspect of this future world especially impressed me as a former English teacher who, as part of my masters degree program, studied linguistics (the structure and history of language formation) and several foreign languages, including Spanish. Hill/Rallison very logically constructed the language of her world as a type of “Spanglish,” a mixture of English and Spanish with simplified, phonetic spellings of words.
There are three central threads of this book, and for my taste, all three are done extremely well. First, there is significant personal growth within both Echo and Sheridan that springs substantially out of their romantic relationship. This is something that every good romance plot needs to accomplish and not nearly enough manage to achieve. Second, the villains of her action-adventure plot are not merely predictably power-hungry and cruel, but have larger motivations that prevent them from being one-dimensional, Snidley Whiplash buffoons. Third, the author’s story forces the protagonists to make difficult, ethical choices–vs. merely allowing them to stumble into dumb, immature mistakes. This is a source of major conflict and trouble in both the romance and the action-adventure plots. I love it when a novelist writes this type of sophisticated story. Integrity is a costly virtue to maintain in any era, and a rich source of danger and adventure in a dystopian, futuristic plot in particular. And for action-adventure plots in general, the most effective ones are those in which the protagonists are willing to sacrifice themselves for the safety and well-being of others, as both of these protagonists are abundantly willing to do in this story.
Hill/Rallison is well-known for writing “clean reads,” with no swearing, drugs, alcohol or sexual situations, and this is definitely the case for this book. In my opinion, this type of artistic choice means that this author stands out in a refreshing way in the field of YA fiction. The latter is increasingly dominated by excruciatingly dark books containing mature subject matter that editors from the Big Six publishers label “edgy” and “gritty.” This is so much the case that many, if not most editors–and unfortunately many who review YA–have come to assume that if a YA book is not filled with adult content it must be aimed at children and doesn’t “deserve” the title of YA.
This is only one woman’s opinion, but I strongly disagree with this attitude. In the same manner that publishers of adult romance novels offer, and clearly label, “clean reads” for the extremely large segment of the fans of that genre who prefer that type of story, it would be a welcome service from publishers of YA if they would market novels for teens in the same way, making it obvious when a YA novel contains mature content. Until such time as they choose to do this, the only means for a potential buyer to make an informed choice is through seeking out YA reviews that describe the nature of a teen book’s content.
Finally, I have good news for fans of this book: I visited Rallison’s website and asked her via email if there would be any other books about Echo, Sheridan and Taylor. She replied that she originally intended this book to be a standalone, but her publisher, Harper, asked her to write a sequel. It has the working title of “Echo in Time” and will be released in 2013.
I rate this book as follows:
Fantasy World-Building: 5
Action-Adventure Plot: 5
Romance Plot: 5