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Amulet/ / 272 pages / $16.95
Life used to be "normal" for thirteen-year old Rowan and his
eleven-year-old sister, Nina, but when their mother died their lives
flip-flopped to grief-counseling, psychiatrists and a father with both
business and drinking problems. Nina, a musical prodigy, has not only
stopped playing the piano, she's stopped speaking. Now, a year later,
they are sent to Owatannauk, Maine, a small resort town, to visit with
two great-aunts for a month. Except, they quickly discover, Owattannauk
is not your ordinary small town and the "aunts" aren't blood relations
at all, and the weird gets going pretty quickly. Nina recovers her power
of speech (and music), they soon meet twins Xavier and Xanthe, and they
all discover a hotel with time-traveling "alleviators." Nina disappears
and the remaining three assume (for good reason) she's off on a trip
that would land her smack-dab in the middle of the French Revolution.
They quickly read up on the period and are supplied the proper clothing
(Owatannauk's economy is based on time travel) and roles to play. Xanthe
is an artist, "a good occupation for a woman..." and her skin color will
make her "seem exciting and exotic." Since "there weren't that many
black people in Revolutionary France," Xavier is stuck with the role of
freed slave. Rowan is a noble. Then they are off on the alleviators to
save Nina. The book grabbed me for good when the owner of the hotel
hands the kids a list of warnings, rules and regulations ("5. No food or
drink are allowed on the alleviators...
7. Please do not try to change
the events of History. It will affect your ability to return....
8. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MAY YOU CONTACT YOURSELF AS A YOUNGER PERSON.
No sexual relations with people from the past....") and asks them to
sign a waiver (with fine print that must be read with a microscope).
Questions about rule #8? "Here's a brochure..."
The nagging questions
that plague in such scenarios (language? micro-translators) are answered
well enough for the fun to continue. The author's quick wit and the
book's furiously fast pace will definitely win young readers and they
won't mind that some of the historic part is almost as much of a stretch
as alleviators. (A handy author's note separates fact from fiction.)
Owattanauk and the eccentric "aunts" are serial material, so it will be
interesting to see what happens with this potential franchise. Don't
look for the book to crossover to adults, though, Williams's core
message about finding oneself and dealing with life (perhaps assisted by
licensed professionals) will ring true for juveniles, but is a little
too shallow for adult consumption.
--review originally appeared in DarkEcho # 36
Copyright © 2004 Paula Guran. All Rights