A time-travel adventure incorporates reflections on human nature in this middle-grade stand-alone.
With their mother in danger overseas, 12-year-old Will Menzies and his little brother, Jamie, are bundled off from the United States to Scotland to live with relatives. At the family’s ancestral castle, Will discovers his ability to look into the past…and, as Jamie impulsively learns, even to visit it. Will and his irrepressible cousin Nan are determined to rescue Jamie, but every trip into history brings greater dangers. Will is an immensely appealing protagonist—introspective and responsible yet sick with worry, anger, and guilt over his mother’s situation. The other characters (most of them Will’s Scottish relatives and ancestors and all white, like Will and Jamie) are more thinly drawn but still lively and likable. The historical chapters especially shine: Despite the hand-waving pseudo-scientific mechanics, the trio’s jaunts to the Middle Ages, Roman times, and even earlier are vividly realized, rich in well-chosen details, and charming and thrilling and gross and cruel where appropriate. (While never graphically explicit, the level of bloody violence sometimes clashes with the simple, almost naïve, illustrations.) These episodes are united by Will’s growing awareness of humanity’s tragic predilection toward fear and violence, along with its capacity for bravery and kindness. In a touching epilogue, he is able to bring his new understanding to reconciliation with his parents’ choices.
Gripping and thoughtful; readers will be left pondering their own connections to the past. (Fantasy. 9-13)