Henshon’s debut novel treads familiar ground, pitting an orphan and two friends against forces beyond their ken.
Andy Lightfoot shares his parents’ zest for time travel—a predilection that distresses his grandmother to no end because, when Andy was 5 years old, both his parents vanished mysteriously, lost in time. Sent to live with his grandparents, Andy wavers between deference to his grandmother’s wishes and a quiet sort of defiance, which soon has him creating his own time shuttle as a science fair project. With gentle encouragement from his more adventurous grandfather, Andy works up the courage to apply to the Jules Verne Time Travel Summer School—the same summer camp his parents attended before vanishing. What follows isn’t entirely a retread of Harry Potter’s first adventures at Hogwarts, but there are enough similarities to be distracting. Andy becomes fast friends with two other students, a boy and a girl, and goes shopping for school supplies with a guide before departing via an unorthodox mode of transportation. He’s placed on one of his new school’s four teams. He attracts the headmaster’s attention. And of course, Andy and his friends enjoy adventures far out of their depth, from battling a dinosaur on the school grounds to his first real experience with time travel. Clearing the air a bit is a blatant shoutout to the Harry Potter books: “They were a big hit forty years ago,” observes one of Andy’s new friends. But Henshon’s story is at its best when it diverges from the Potter model and focuses on relationships—especially the one between Andy and his grandfather, who, unlike his wife, is equal parts wise, adventurous, and tolerant. “I can’t tell you what to do, because I don’t have to live with the decision,” Grandpa Lightfoot reassures Andy when the young man wonders whether he’s really cut out to pursue his time-travel dream. “I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.”
A story held back by a plethora of similarities to the Potter world, though it has plenty of shine on its own.