In this fantasy, sisters and their cousin time travel to 1867, where they learn more about their family’s ancestral origins in America and Africa.
Ever since preschool, Ann Sesstry’s name has provoked smiles or smirks, which is why the 13-year-old prefers “Annie.” Ancestry, history, and tradition are honored in Annie’s African-American household both as professions and avocations. On most weekends, the family visits museums or historical sites, and today they’re visiting the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., an expedition that includes Annie’s parents, her sister, Emma, 10, and their cousin Josh, 11. At the emotionally stirring monument, a sequence of events takes the three young people from D.C. in 2016 through a time-and-space portal—first to Georgia, 1912, where they meet their great-great-grandmother, then to Crawford County, Georgia, 1867. To Annie, the purpose of the portal is clear: “One of us or all of us must learn a lesson from an ancestor here.” Very soon, they meet Mary MacElmurry and her husband, Laverne (called Fox), who is their great-great-great-great-grandfather, and today, he’s registering to vote. Although the portal changed the children’s clothes and gear to match the era, they have a lot to learn about surviving while black; Mary reminds her husband, “We’s free Fox; don’t mean we’s safe.” When danger threatens, the family comes together for a rescue mission. By the end, the travelers understand the importance of learning long-forgotten stories stolen from their ancestors and making them known again. In her debut novel, Welburn combines the appealing time-travel theme with a new and powerful fantasy: that of restoring history to a people whose cultural identity—languages, family trees, familial relationships, even names—was taken from them. This theme is beautifully symbolized by the Sankofa image, a bird with feet facing forward, head turned backward, and carrying an egg in its mouth, which references a Ghanaian proverb meaning “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” Though generally strong, the book could use an editor to address repetitively made points and to clean up punctuation and other errors.
An imaginative, compelling take on time travel, African-American history, and family.