Has a book ever made such a deep impression on you that you thought you’d like to visit its fictional world? How would you fare if you were physically transported into a story in another time and place? Some recent YA books ask and answer these questions, mixing time travel with alternate retellings of classics.
In Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, high school freshman Emily March is the middle sister, always coming up short in the sibling rivalry game. An English class assignment asks her to describe one thing she’d change about a classic novel. She picks childhood favorite Little Women, which she would improve by letting Beth live and Jo marry Laurie. While paging through the book, Emily is literally sucked into the story, back to 1860s New England. Once again, she is the middle daughter and in competition with a sister (Jo) for the affections of the only hot guy on the scene (Laurie).
Emily seems to have been a member of this March family forever, but she has to puzzle out her place without letting anyone know she’s from the future. She also has to learn how to be a teen in the Civil War era and to adjust to Marmee’s Victorian style of child rearing. Most of all, she needs to figure out how to return to her proper time and place. Can Emily change Beth and Jo’s fates, and should she? The author leaves us guessing until the last few chapters and ties things up with clever twists that most readers won’t be able to anticipate.
Confession: I would rather have dental work done than experience another performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors, 17-year-old Mimi Wallingford feels the same way, but unfortunately, she’s playing Juliet on Broadway! Mimi hails from a distinguished acting family, but she hates her job so much that she suffers panic attacks before each performance. Making matters worse is co-starring with Troy Summer, an insufferable sitcom heart-throb who has been cast as Romeo to bump up box office receipts.
One night before curtain, Mimi discovers that her mother has been raiding her college fund to keep the theater afloat, and that Mimi must star in a DVD of a live R&J performance to bring in cash. Overwhelmed, she flees the theater, closely followed by an angry Troy. Through the intervention of a necklace that contains a vial of ashes from Shakespeare’s quill, they are magically transported to Shakespeare’s Verona.
Like Emily in Little Women and Me, Mimi wants to change her story’s outcome. She sees in Juliet a kindred spirit, another girl being sacrificed for her family’s needs. She doesn’t want Juliet to marry the much older Paris or to die in a suicide pact with Romeo. Troy, though, is afraid that fiddling with the plot will ruin their chances of returning to the 21st century. Mimi’s actions encourage readers to take a new look at Shakespeare’s characters and have persuaded me to give the play another chance!
A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont takes a darker look at being absorbed into a classic. Protagonist Emma Townsend is a loner, a sophomore scholarship student at an exclusive prep school where she has no friends. She also feels adrift at home: her mother is dead, and her father has remarried a woman with whom Emma just can’t connect. Emma identifies with Charlotte BrontÃ«’s Jane Eyre, another shy and insecure outsider, and picks Jane as a character to write about for an English assignment. One night, Emma is caught in a storm and struck by lightning, which catapults her not just into Jane Eyre’s story but physically into Jane’s body.
As governess at Thornfield, Emma feels that she at last belongs, and she develops a deep attraction to the brooding Mr. Rochester. Emma doesn’t stay in Jane’s world long, thoughâ€”she awakens back in modern times in a hospital bed, and subsequently experiences times in the present and back in Jane’s world. Is she time traveling, or experiencing hallucinations as a result of brain damage from the lightning strike? Moving between two realities, and uncovering unsettling secrets in both, Emma must decide whether her destiny lies in Jane’s story, or if she can build a life for herself in her own world. This intriguing book is the first in a planned series; sequels are to take Emma into The Scarlet Letter and The Phantom of the Opera.
Just as with Lost in Austen, the hit PBS mini-series in which a modern woman found herself living in a classic novel, these books appeal primarily to females. What’s the attraction? Genteel courtship? Romantic love, of the tragically-doomed or happily-ever-after variety? There are some “guy books” that could make great time travel remakes; how about Tom Sawyer or The Red Badge of Courage?
Have you ever fallen into a good book? What storyline would you like to move into, or at least visit?
— Suzanne Neumann, currently reading Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos and listening to Vixen by Jillian Larkin