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Alternate History, in two parts
Connie Willis considers her World War II alternate history/time travel saga to be one book. She calls it Blackout-All Clear, even though Blackout was published in February and All Clear in October. So we decided to publish one review encompassing both.
While yes, both books are long (very long), there are teens out there who have no problem with that. In fact, they relish it. I’m sure you’ve experienced this phenomenon, especially among fantasy readers. I encountered it with The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (Little Brown, 2005). In my library it was a popular among a specific group of friends, who all seemed inspired by the challenge implied by the helf of the book. They were happy to read it in hardcover, proudly lugging it around with their heavy textbooks, talking about it loudly.
The same was true of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind (DAW, 2007). I might be bringing this up mostly so I can gloat over the fact that the next installment of the Kingkiller Chronicles is finally on its way. Wise Man’s Fear is set for release by DAW on March 1, 2011. How excited are we??
Blackout-All Clear is more history than fantasy compared to the two titles just mentioned. And history is another genre whose avid readers are willing to tackle a longer book.
Willis’ novel To Say Nothing of the Dog won an Alex Award in 1998, and also involves an Oxford University time travel project. But it was much lighter in tone than the book(s) we present today:
WILLIS, Connie. Blackout. 491p. ISBN 978-0-553-80319-8.
––––. All Clear. 641p. ISBN 978-0-553-80767-7.
Adult/High School–In Blackout, Oxford historians in 2060 use time travel to study momentous events firsthand. Polly, Mike, andEileen, three adventurous young historians, are heading back to the 20th century to study aspects of World War II. Polly is playing the role of shop girl during the Blitz. Eileen is serving as a nanny to observe displaced London children who were sent to the countryside to avoid the bombing. And Mike, well…he seems to have been dropped in the wrong destination, which could cause major problems for the time travelers. Readers are clued throughout the book that this expedition is not working out as planned. Drop sites are demolished, dates are wrong, and the historians are increasingly frustrated by the lack of communication from the future. Nevertheless, this is much less a time-travel tale than one of historical fiction. The three historians are constantly trying to place themselves in the known sequence of events, always fearing that they will somehow alter history. History buffs will love the inside look at England during the worst of the war, while casual readers may find themselves scurrying for more background information. It is essential to read Blackout first. In All Clear, unidentified historians from the future strive to get Polly, Mike, and Eileen out of the past, using a variety of names and guises. At times, several hundred pages separate one segment of a character’s story from the next. Although the combined books make for a lengthy, complex narrative, it is satisfying to see the stories come together in the end. All of this is accomplished with Willis’s trademark understated wit. Readers with an interest in World War II should love these books, but also try recommending it to teens who enjoy complex fictional narratives such as Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium trilogy.”–Diane Colson, New Port Richey Library, FL
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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