In this “fish out of water” YA novel, a Maine teenager finds himself thrust back in time to an ancient encampment of the Native American tribe that, centuries ago, inhabited his backyard.
Matthew is a typical high school junior with a girlfriend, a summer job as a grocery store stock boy, and a love of the outdoors. One summer evening, as he is waiting for his mother to get home to cook dinner, he collapses after being bitten by an unusual-looking black fly. When he awakes, he is surprised to find himself in a rustic structure surrounded by people speaking a strange language. Although he recognizes a few familiar landmarks, everything else seems to have changed. Instead of his house and backyard, the area is filled with Native American dwellings and the daily activities of tribal life before any contact with white settlers. The residents of the tiny village accept Matt into their circle even though they can only communicate with gestures. Viewing his situation with some curiosity, Matt names his new friends, some (like Aunt Martha and George) for people they remind him of and others (Mosquito, Contentment, and Sourpuss) for observed characteristics. As he follows them through their routines of food gathering and preparation, tool making, pottery, and basket weaving, Matt gains appreciation for the tribal members’ kindness, skills, and highly efficient management and use of natural resources. Will (Last Entry, 2016) is an anthropologist, and his examination of prehistoric Native American life is intriguing and absorbing. His writing demonstrates skillful descriptive powers, whether painting the beauty of the Maine countryside, detailing the deeds of the tribe, or “reminiscing” about small-town life in 21st-century New England. What is missing in this YA tale is an effective exploration of Matt’s emotional reaction to his dislocation in time. Where one might expect panic, anger, and loneliness, Matt reacts to his situation with bland equanimity, at most remarking: “I’ve always been interested in Native American culture, but this can’t be happening. I don’t want it to be happening.” If this leaves the narrative feeling less like a convincing story of teen time travel than an anthropologist’s account, it is at least a compelling one.
An engrossing, if somewhat emotionally superficial, tale of early tribal life in North America through the eyes of an outsider.