Roche’s precocious young characters find themselves transported to 19th-century New York City in her debut middle-grade book.
Fourteen-year-old Peregrine “Peri” Gasper enjoys history, reading, and browsing her father’s dusty antiques store. She’s less enthused about her two younger stepbrothers, Henry and Max. The newly formed family’s quiet afternoon at the antiques store is interrupted when Max inadvertently places a set of antique keys on a magical book. The three children travel through time, landing on a boat entering New York Harbor in 1892. Thus begins an incredible adventure as the siblings struggle to figure out where they are and how to get back home. They travel to different times and places in New York City, giving them a firsthand look at the plight of immigrants and the struggles of urban poverty. Peri, Henry, and Max soon realize that the key to returning home may literally be the antique keys from the shop. Each key they locate leads to a new person, a new story, and an opportunity to help others while learning some history. Along the way, the children meet many historical figures—Jacob Riis, Theodore Roosevelt, and little Annie Moore, the first immigrant to pass through the doors of Ellis Island. Roche takes readers on a remarkable journey, offering an entertaining, informative glimpse into the past. Locations such as the Lower East Side tenements come to life through Roche’s evocative writing; rats the size of dogs scurry across the road as vendors sell pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut, and neighbors ask after each other in multiple languages and dialects. Roche also does a masterful job tackling issues children may face in modern times. In the course of solving historical problems, her young protagonists must also deal with emotions and questions that arise from divorce and their blended family. The historic photographs and illustrations that accompany the text are a wonderful addition, and Roche also offers supplementary games, activities, and recipes readers can use to further engage with the narrative.
An educational, highly enjoyable read that kicks off a promising new series.