by Polly Shulman
First sentence: “The Wednesday when the whole time-travel adventure began, I was fiddling with my game controller, trying to make the shoot button more sensitive.”
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Content: The main character is a bit obsessed with the girl (too much for my taste in a time-traveling, science fiction adventure book) and there’s a terrorist threatening to destroy NYC. It’s in the middle grade (3-5 grade) section of the bookstore, though I personally would hesitate before giving it to just any third grader, though I’m not sure I could pinpoint why.
Leo is the son of Russian immigrants who really only expect two things from him: excellence and to be scientifically minded. Leo — for better or for worse — is neither of those. At least not in the traditional sense. Leo is a Tinkerer. He loves taking things apart and putting them back together. He loves building new and better things. Which makes him perfect for the page program of the New York Circulating Material Repository. He gets there in a weird, round-about way, though: a time-traveling version of himself and an unknown girl (Jaya Rao, who was in the first book of this series The Grimm Legacy. Thankfully this one stands on its own, however.) stops in his room to tell him to read H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
I’d like to say that an adventure starts there, and there is a bit of an adventure that involves NikolaTesla, Mark Twain, and a crazed British page that has a raging crush on Jaya. I while I did enjoy reading this book, mostly I felt like it was a set-piece for Shulman to show off all the Really Cool Things that could come from reading science fiction books. There are many references to classic science fiction (which I got, but I wonder how an elementary school student would handle) and the inventions that come out of them are really neat. But I felt like that was the entire point of the plot. And I kind of wanted more action and less cool inventions.
(There’s also the side issue of Leo being Obsessed — though not in a crazy way — with kissing Jaya. I know he’s a hormonal pre-teen boy, but get on with it already. It’s a science fiction time travel book. I felt like it was a distraction.)
Even with my qualms, it was a fun story. And I’m curious about the first one as well.
(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.)