Shrinking down to five inches tall and going exploring as a suddenly tiny person almost always makes for a great plot, in my opinion. In The Sixty-Eight Rooms, Marianne Malone, (2010, 274 pages) it works exceptionally well. There wasn’t a lot of time travel in this book, just enough for me to justify reviewing it in this blog. It was mostly a great story about two kids shrinking and exploring.
Sixth-grader Ruthie is pleased that her class is to take a field trip to the . Better yet, she gets to be buddied up with her best friend Jack. Ruthie has never before seen the Thorne Rooms, one of the permanent collections there. These are 68 miniature (dollhouse) rooms, each one decorated to reflect a different time and place. When she lays her eyes on the rooms Ruthie is instantly fascinated. Then she and Jack discover a magic key in the area of the rooms that allows them to shrink to five inches tall.
After the trip Ruthie reads about the Thorne rooms and learns all she can. One day, Ruthie and Jack hide out in the museum until after closing, use the key to shrink, then explore the rooms. As if this weren’t magical enough, they discover that if they exit a Thorne room, a whole outside world exists that matches the time and place of the room! They visit France right before the Revolution, and Massachusetts during the time of the witch trials.
One issue writers of time travel books have to address is the logistics of the time travel– making the impossible believable. The time travel has to believable enough that a reader isn’t asking, “Wait a minute, how did the character get from point A to point B?” Some authors spend very little time explaining the mechanics of their time travel, and lately I’m liking this approach more as such details are often not very interesting. Malone goes a little too far in the other direction, in my opinion. The details of the time travel and shrinking in The Sixty-Eight Rooms are meticulously detailed. The book was a little longer than I would have liked. But at least no one can accuse Malone of leaving unanswered questions about how the time travel worked.
I was interested to see how the author would treat the friendship between Ruthie and Jack since I’m writing a book featuring a boy and girl friend. It could be considered a challenge making the friendship convincing as some readers might find it hard to believe that children of this age would have a friend of the opposite gender. The way Ruthie and Jack’s friendship was portrayed was believable overall, although I thought it was a little idealized, as was the kids’ relationships with their parents. The mothers were always there with a sympathetic ear providing cookies or pancakes, and everyone got along perfectly. These quibbles I have with the book are small, however. Mostly I was on the edge of my seat to find out how miniature Ruthie and Jack would deal with such problems as a bug the same size as themselves, and to see what they would encounter within and outside of each Thorne room.
The Art Institute of Chicago has an online game about the Thorne rooms! You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to play, you can do as I did and just “wander” through the rooms. I was interested to read on the author’s website, that she herself was fascinated by the Thorne rooms as a girl.
A sequel to The Sixty-Eight Rooms was published this year. Here’s a description of Stealing Magic:A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure from the publisher:
Ruthie and Jack thought that their adventures in the Thorne Rooms were over . . . until miniatures from the rooms start to disappear. Is it the work of the art thief who’s on the loose in Chicago? Or has someone else discovered the secret of the Thorne Rooms’ magic? Ruthie and Jack’s quest to stop the thief takes them from modern-day Chicago to 1937 Paris to antebellum South Carolina. But as more items disappear, including the key that allows them to shrink and access the past worlds, what was once just an adventure becomes a life and death race against the clock. Can Ruthie and Jack catch the thief and help the friends they meet on the way before the magic—and the rooms—are destroyed forever? Fans of magic, mystery, and adventure will love this rollicking sequel to Marianne Malone’s The Sixty-Eight Rooms.
My new ambition is to publish a blog post that can be described as “rollicking”. I’ve realized it might be better for me to publish posts more often. So, I will still review two books with a common theme, but I will break it up into two posts. Now you’ll be able to find a time travel book review here most Mondays.