Where time travel, historical fiction and nonfiction, ancient Chinese design and Morse code collide—keep up, or risk being left in the past…or the future.
Narrator Ambrose “Bro” Brody, a middle schooler with an Irish father and an Afro–French-Canadian mother, fears his family will suffer due to his father’s embrace of his “trans-temp,” or cross-time–dressing, identity, teaching middle school dressed as different historical figures. Shofranka “Frankie” Camlo, a Romany who travels with her father’s carnival, and Tom Xui, Bro’s best friend, a Chinese-American kid who loves history and uses big words as expletives, try to help Bro learn his fate. The boys accompany Frankie to retrieve the Camlo Shagbolt (a time trombone), but when trouble arises, Frankie blows the horn’s “area code” for another decade and takes them back to 1852. Since the Fugitive Slave Act makes the trio a target for slave catchers, they run for their lives often, changing the future when they interact with ancestors. They are not without resources: Mr. Ganto, a Gigantopithecus, is their guardian; Tom can read the hexagrams in China’s I-Ching: The Book of Changes and extract Morse code messages from them; Bro is clairvoyant; and Frankie is skilled at playing the Shagbolt. These elements combine to help the friends avert one historical disaster after another.
A worthwhile if convoluted read that will extend readers’ knowledge of history and expand their concept of “diversity.” (Fantasy. 8-12)