In Printz honoree Gardner’s (Maggot Moon, 2014) time-travel historical mystery, 17-year-old white Londoner AJ Flynn, having passed only one of his qualifying exams, faces a bleak future until he discovers a door to the 1830s and the possibility of a different life in another century.
AJ’s mom considers him “a waste of space," his drunken stepfather is “a huge, blancmange slug of a man," and all he knows about his father is that he is dead. He lands a junior position in a law firm and, while tidying the archives one day, comes upon a key labeled with his name. Finding the door that fits the key, AJ learns not only how his father died, but that he time traveled to obtain 19th-century snuffboxes that he sold in the 21st century at great profit. AJ’s Turkish friend, Slim, is being pursued by a gangster whose girlfriend he dated, while his friend Leon, a Jamaican, is on the wrong side of the dealer whose drugs killed his mother. AJ takes both through the portal, where they find a chance to start over. The convoluted time-travel mystery has verve, but readers will encounter some bumps. AJ’s fondness for Dickens (he excelled at English if nothing else) prepares him somewhat for life in the early 19th century, though the ease with which the characters adapt to different centuries strains credibility. Too, many of the large cast of characters add nothing to the plot beyond a thicket of complications.
Liberally peppered with both swears (from both times) and Dickens references, this gritty coming-of-age story is best suited to readers as fundamentally romantic as AJ. (Fantasy. 12-18)