July 19, 2018
(+++) TIME AND TIME AGAIN
Time Tracers 1: The Stolen Summers. By Annabeth Bondor-Stone & Connor White. Harper. $16.99.
It was apparently too much to hope for. Annabeth Bondor-Stone and Connor White are the coauthors of a couple of delightfully daffy books for preteens, called Shivers! That’s as in “shiver me timbers,” and the central character is a boy pirate whose family is filled with the usual dashing piratical derring-do and dastardly doings but who, for his part, wants nothing to do with pirate stuff and in fact is deathly afraid of water. And of dry land, for that matter. And of snails. And pizza. And pretty much everything else. Shivers’ misadventures are so utterly ridiculous, and the character is so endearingly absurd, that it is obvious that Bondor-Stone and White have some real talent for creating comedic preteen adventures. Young readers should definitely get their hands on Shivers! Those who do will have high hopes for the authors’ new series.
Unfortunately, the Time Tracers sequence, on the basis of its first entry, is so ordinary, formulaic and unamusingly silly that The Stolen Summers would be a (++) book if Bondor-Stone and White didn’t rate a third (+) simply out of a hopefully not forlorn hope that they will recover their cleverness and ebullience for the next book in the group.
Not even the series’ dull and confusing title works well. How about Time Thieves? That is what the book is about. How about Time Trackers? It is also about people who track the time thieves. But Time Tracers? The book misfires literally from its cover. About that cover: it shows a startled-looking preteen gazing at his watch (do lots of preteens still wear watches?) while surrounded by a horde of ugly buglies that have buggy-looking heads but clawlike, sort-of-handlike appendages plus human feet. Um, what? As it happens, this is not how the bad guys are described in the book, but yes, the baddies are bugs of some sort (actually various sorts), and apparently there are numerous types of them, so maybe one of them looks like the ones on the front cover? They are also on the back cover – which features a guy driving a bus into the horde of bug-uglies while a sort-of-ninja, black-clad woman fighter is using one bug thing as a club to smash other bug things.
The bug things, see, are invisible time suckers (why not call the book Time Suckers?). And what they do is suck the fun out of life. Yes, they consume fun, which is why time seems to fly when you are having fun – the fun part gets stolen by these things, which live on it. They are, like, everywhere, and the organization of the book’s title, the Time Tracers, is charged with tracing them. Well, not exactly – the group is charged with stopping them. How about Time Stoppers?
Anyway, into this mess comes class clown and all-around fun-seeker Taj Carter, who turns out to be the Worm. Yes, the Worm turns. Because, see, being the Worm is a good thing. It seems that Taj, and only Taj, can restore lost time (which looks like grains of sand – yes, the sand-in-an-hourglass cliché) when the Time Tracers recover it from the evil bug baddies. And this is especially important at the moment (Moments in Time?) because the bugs have been stealing much more time than usual, for reasons unknown, and all the people in Taj’s town are going to be rendered brain-dead, or more brain-dead than they already are, if Taj does not come into his powers soon and use them for all that is good and right and, um, timely. This even includes bringing the dead back to life. But only the good dead. No zombies here (Time Shamblers?).
Yes, this is another only-a-kid-can-save-the-world book. And it is an unusually drippy one. For instance, preteen adventures usually give the protagonist buddies with whom to interact – and with whom readers can identify if for some reason they are not taken with the primary character (which would be understandable here: Taj has precious little personality and a tendency to do the wrong, frequently dumb thing more often than not). Well, Bondor-Stone and White do give Taj a couple of buds named Jen and Lucas – who do absolutely nothing in the entire story and appear only at the very start and the very end. Preteen adventures usually reach out for some sort of pathos or difficulty in the protagonist’s family, both to explain certain character motivations and to make the central character less unidimensional. Thus, Taj has a little sister who had a congenital heart-valve problem and needed two surgeries as an infant. And she shows up briefly at the book’s start and briefly at its conclusion, and not at all anywhere else, and the relationship between her and Taj goes nowhere and might as well not exist. Taj’s only interactions are with adults, including the two pictured on the book’s back cover, and that is simply weird in a novel for preteens. The adventure elements of the book are thoroughly stereotypical, the bad-guy bug mastermind is right out of central casting, the few attempts at humor invariably fall flat, and the only certainty here is that the bad bugs will not feed on the experiences of young readers who encounter this book, since there is so little fun to be had in it. Time to Go? Maybe – to go and read Shivers!