Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani

Hearing a particular song can evoke so many emotions and memories. We may say a particular song really “takes us back”. In this book, songs literally take people zooming back through time to the year the song was released! Jukebox (by Nidhi Chanani, 2021) is a graphic novel that has a jukebox as the time travel portal, East Asian characters, exuberant illustrations, and a fun story. I’ve reviewed so many kids’ time travel books, but I’ve never read one in which the portal was a jukebox. I don’t even recall a story that had songs as portals. Because songs can be so evocative, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done a bunch of times before!

Summary from Goodreads:

Grab some coins for the jukebox, and get ready for a colorful, time-traveling musical tale about family and courage.
A mysterious jukebox, old vinyl records, and cryptic notes on music history, are Shaheen’s only clues to her father’s abrupt disappearance. She looks to her cousin, Tannaz, who seems just as perplexed, before they both turn to the jukebox which starts…glowing?

Suddenly, the girls are pulled from their era and transported to another time! Keyed to the music on the record, the jukebox sends them through decade after decade of music history, from political marches, to landmark concerts. But can they find Shaheen’s dad before the music stops? This time-bending magical mystery tour invites readers to take the ride of their lives for a coming-of-age adventure.

I took a several-years break from reviewing time travel books, and looking at the landscape of kids’ time travel books recently, I note the trends of more graphic novels and more non-white characters. This book combines these positive trends. Usually in kids’ time travel stories if there is a pair of travelers they are siblings or friends, so the fact that this pair were cousins was refreshing. Sharing a network of family ties, but lacking sibling rivalry, cousins can enjoy a unique relationship. Twelve-year-old Shaheen and her fourteen-year-old cousin Tannaz had such a sweet friendship! And for a graphic novel, I found the characters to be surprisingly well-developed. They had distinct personalities, and both were grappling with realistic issues within their immediate families.

It’s great how the author pays homage to several important musicians, including Bessie Smith, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Grandmaster Flash. For each of these musicians there is a page that features a drawing of the cover art of the album, in a collage with other items that I assume are from the same time period. These were cool. I loved all the song trivia. A vinyl-loving friend had just told me the story about James Brown that was referenced in the book so that particularly resonated. If I have a complaint with the book it is that it perhaps tried to address too many different issues. And there was an unexpected plot twist at the end of the book that I found a bit jarring. I would have preferred a slightly simplified story without the twist, that included more details about the music.

Man, were jukeboxes fun! Putting in the coins for your favorite song, waiting and wondering how many songs were in the queue before your pick, discovering what other people in the bar or restaurant chose… Nowadays, when a kid can have their own phone and endless playlists, paying to hear a particular song probably would not hold much appeal for them. However, this book has motivated me to try to go to a diner with a jukebox, either the big kind or the little ones that sit on the tables sometime soon. Who knows how long it will be before they disappear from the face of the earth!

For more new book reviews, check out blogger Greg Pattridges’s list of other kids’ book reviews published today!

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