Rachelle chose this month’s book which I enjoyed greatly for several reasons. Firstly (but not most importantly), the book references A Wrinkle in Time none too subtly a mere 7 pages in. Being the space/time nerd that I am, I knew instantly which book Miranda was referring to, and the book is actually used as a running analogy throughout the story to help give the reader a yardstick for narrative chronology.
(As an aside, with more on the space/time nerdiness, am I the only one who had major Firefly flashbacks when it turned out the main character’s name was Miranda? Yes? Alright then. Must be withdrawal.
Not to be completely sci-fi-obsessed though, I did like the choice of name. Miranda, usually ascribed the meaning “worthy of admiration” is nothing if not a heroine’s name.
More aside: having two books in a row heavily influenced by (and openly crediting) stories that I love has been wonderful. You will all no doubt be disappointed to hear, then, that April’s book (chosen by me) will have no such awesome derivative origins. Sorry. Semi-spoiler done.)
The book itself is a slender volume, and that, along with its story-style/chronology reminded me heavily of Chronicle of a Death Foretold. As a novel, though, I found the pace good, with enough character-growth bits to keep me interested. All told, I probably finished the thing in under 3 hours.
What I love most about the book is that while the story is of itself straight-forward (time travel!) and interesting to anyone older than 9 or so, there was enough highschool life (and trauma) thrown in to keep the book accessible to its target age group. More than that, it fleshed out the characters to give them enough depth. It’s not often I say it, but without the highschool drama, this story would have been pretty one-dimensional. (How’s that for irony?)
Alright, so let’s get down to business here.
1 – Winner’s Circle chapter headings: thematic, or gimmicky literary device?
To be honest, I don’t think it matters. While I’m pretty sure it was just a gimmicky “hey, wouldn’t it be cute if…?” idea the author had when writing — and there are a few chapters with non-thematic titles — I still think it lends continuity to the story.
You remember the “deadline” of the present, no matter where in the timeline of the story you are, because the chapter headings keep you on track: Oh yeah, gameshow.
The story, I think, wouldn’t have been as good without the titles; with chapters that short, some sort of summary is needed. So overall, I think they were a nice touch.
2 – What were the major themes in this story?
Choices, obviously, and luck, and possibly the subtle balance between the two. Another major theme (not sure which one would be “primary”) is the idea of seeing (or not seeing) people as they are vs as they seem vs as the meat-box you’ve mentally put them in.
…having now written that out, it seems likely that the seeing/not-seeing/assuming theme is probably the important one.
Despite that though, I want to focus on the choice vs. luck issue. After all, it’s Marcus’ decision to send himself back on the grand adventure — is it luck that Miranda takes him seriously and figures it out in time? Or does some future interaction from his past let him know that it would work? Similarly, is part of his intention to help heal the rift between Julia and Miranda? Does it matter?
I’m not entirely sure, but in any novel where time travel is involved, I’m always intrigued by the balance of what is intended (“I’m going back in time to stop Biff”) against what happens anyway, usually fortuitously (because time-travel storytellers, it seems, are relentless optimists).
3 – Is it important that Julia be a “good guy”?
Let’s be honest: would the story lose anything if Julia had remained the bitchy rich girl who just wanted her best friend back? I suspect the answer is yes.
I’m actually disappointed that Julia didn’t have a bigger role. She was, after all, the sustaining force for Marcus when his courage was slipping, and she definitely had a better grasp of physics than Miranda expected.
Let’s play along though, and pretend she wasn’t all that, that she was just a girl. Would it really matter? The issues of class and racism would still be explored, the treacherous minefield of female friendship in highschool would still be tip-toed across. What would be missing? A tidy hope for Marcus Future and… a more realistic, fleshed-out character.
I guess I answered my own question. Plot-wise, it wasn’t necessary. Quality of character-wise, it was.
4 – Miranda’s mom receives her “time to be a grown up” wake-up call when Marcus is in trouble. Would she have been worthy of the gameshow prize if she hadn’t? Would perfect focus at the gameshow have counted if Marcus hadn’t needed her that day?
The first is an obvious no, but what does it say about Richard and Miranda that they’d been plotting her reward long before she stepped up? For all her good intentions, it was clear that Miranda’s mom was not intended to be a with-it woman organized enough to handle law school while raising her daughter (mostly) single-handedly.
With that said, however, she did pull herself together in her preparation for the show. If the shot of perspective from Sal’s accident hadn’t been injected into the story, the gameshow might have served as a (paltry) substituted rite of passage.
5 – On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate this book?
3. The story was good, and characters surprisingly engaging, but the short chapters were a little bit too choppy, the slices of time too fragmented to make for smooth reading. It is unlikely that I will re-read this book, although I did enjoy it, and would recommend it heartily to others.
Overall, this book was fantastic — it’s refreshing to be reading so much modern children’s literature. Usually, I’m pretty lazy and mired in my old-school tastes for kid books; I’m very grateful to Rachel and Rachelle for introducing me to newer future classics!
Next up for March, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett. This was Mike‘s choice, which I found in the adult science-fiction/fantasy section, ahem. (Just kidding Mike, I’m sure it’ll be fine!)