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Jan/Feb 2005 Book Reviews

The Golden Hour

Reviewed by Colleen Mondor


Maiya Williams. The Golden Hour.
Amulet Books. 2004.
Ages 8-12

I have read a lot of time travel books over the years and while I'm always intrigued by the possibilities they present, there are usually a dozen different ways that I'm disappointed. The most obvious glitches are of the technical kind, the sort of the thing that Ray Bradbury illustrated so beautifully in his short story, "A Sound of Thunder'. You cannot kill a butterfly, cannot tell Lincoln to avoid the theater or advise JFK to skip Dallas. (If Abe were reelected perhaps JFK would become insignificant; who knows?) I hate it when the history is merely there to make the plot more interesting and not treated with the level of significance it deserves. So I approached Maiya Williams's new book The Golden Hour with more than a certain level of trepidation. These kids were taking a ride to the French Revolution; the possibilities for chaos, both literal and literary were endless. Can you blame me for being more than a bit concerned about this reading experience?

The set-up in Golden is classic. Rowan and Nina are siblings struggling with their mother's death. Their father is too deep in his own grief to tend to them so they are sent for the summer to stay with their two eccentric great-aunts. Emphasis here is on eccentric. Shortly after arriving in Owatannauk, Maine, the kids begin to suspect that there is more to the town than meets the eye. Their suspicions are confirmed when they befriend a set of twins, Xanthe and Xavier, who are staying with their grandmother and have their own unanswered questions. The twins have a theory though, and it centers on the mysterious old long abandoned hotel on the edge of town. Xavier swears that he saw people there, people dressed from another era and the building and grounds appeared gorgeous and brand new. The four children agree to check things out more closely, and their amazing adventure through time and space begins.

This would be a fairly atypical novel if Williams did not accomplish many impressive feats of young adult writing. First, she gets the science in order by taking the time to explain just what the mechanics are for making her time travel possible and also what the rules are for keeping history safe. She has also taken care to make the history come alive, by providing boatloads of characters and situations that make the historical time period incredibly relevant. The reader becomes caught up in situations where the outcome is already known, but now that Williams has made all the players come to life, it is all that much more dramatic. She also takes the time to include a brief note at the book's end explaining those specific instances where she deviated from the historical record and why. Nicely done, and a bit of a surprise in a juvenile text.

The heart of this story though is Rowan and Nina. In the midst of all the adventure and excitement Williams never loses sight of the two of them, or their personal struggles. Rowan and Nina are the center of The Golden Hour and throughout some fantastic changes in scenery and truly scary moments (this is the French Revolution after all), the story never wavers from the two of them. The payoff is an ending that gives the reader just what they want and leaves you hungering for a future return to Owatannauk.

 

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