Time Snatchers

by Richard Unger
ages: 11+
First sentence: “I can’t stop crying.”
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Review copy provided by my place of employment.

Caleb steals things.

Not just anything: artifacts from history.

See: he works for Uncle as a time snatcher, someone who goes through history procuring important artifacts for clients.

On the one hand: this is way cool. The idea of time travel for theft is a clever one, and Unger comes up with some pretty neat technology to make it happen. In addition, Unger finds some great minor moments in history to feature in the book.

The hitch: Caleb doesn’t do this by choice.

He and all the other snatchers in Uncle’s employ — including Caleb’s love-interest, Abby, and his arch-nemesis (we need a nemesis?), Frank — are orphans, and Uncle is, shall we say, less than a kind benefactor. Caleb and his fellow snatchers are there until death, pretty much. There is no way out. 

And this is the other hand: it all sounds quite grim and hopeless. This book is one bit of drama on top of another: Frank is stealing Caleb’s snatches out from under him, he’s being groomed to be the next Uncle, and then he kidnaps (for Uncle, of course) a kid — Zach — Caleb befriended on one of his snatches. That’s not even mentioning the fact that Caleb thinks that Abby like-likes Frank. It’s not a happy book. It’s not a light book. And while the premises is a good one, it’s not even a fun book.

So, of course, Caleb has to risk everything to get Zach back to his family. It’s the only human thing for Caleb to do. And here we come to my real problem with this one: it just petered out. I’m not sure how it could have done anything else, but a good third of the conflict that was introduced wasn’t resolved. Which I don’t mind, generally speaking, but it kind of seemed pointless.

And in the end, I didn’t like this one as much as I hoped it would.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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