Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM)! For more middle grade book reviews from other bloggers, go here. This week and next, I’m reviewing books about field trips that started out ordinary, then got a whole lot more interesting, thanks to time travel. Author roots in San Francisco and that’s where his Bridge of Time, (2012, 290 pages) is set. It’s about Joan Lee and Lee Jones who have been best friends since sixth grade.
Now it’s the end of eighth grade and their class is thrilled to be going on a field trip to an amusement park. Only, there was a mix-up with the deposit check so they aren’t going to go to the amusement park, exactly, but rather Civil War site Fort Point.
The sound of sixty-seven eighth graders being cruelly disappointed all at once might be spelled something like this: “Awwwwww-oooooohhhhh-oooo-aiii!” But spelling really can’t make a word as loud and terrifying as the sound that now swallowed MPR4. Imagine the sound of a jet plane–an angry, sulky jet plane–landing in your living room.
The class is not happy, and Joan and Lee have an additional reason to be down–both sets of parents told them the previous night that they were getting divorced. When Lee and Joan share this news with each other at the field trip they have to smile for a moment at the coincidence, but the two really are upset about it. Joan and Lee picture what their futures will look like post-divorce, and they don’t like what they see. While a tour guide drones on about cannons, they sneak away, up into a lighthouse that is part of the historic site. The view is great from up there. They doze off. When they wake up things look…different. Like, the Golden Gate Bridge is gone.
They meet a man called Sam Clemens who explains to Joan and Lee that they have come “unstuck” in time, and that he is also an unstuck traveler through time. They have landed in 1864. Sam becomes their guide and friend. 1864 San Francisco has some things to recommend it, but one big negative is the extreme racism toward people of Chinese ethnicity. Joan, who is Chinese, is in danger in this time period. But, Joan and Lee may not be able to go home until they really want to, and because of the impending divorces, neither wants to.
Sam Clemens turns out to be a young, pre-famous Mark Twain. His voice is consistent with the wry, incisive older Mark Twain with which many of us are familiar from his writings. He was a fantastic character. It was a treat to have his words of wisdom in the story.
Rather than using only dialogue or narrative, Buzbee employed a unique literary device to describe some of the thoughts and feelings between Joan and Lee. He captured some of the looks they exchanged with capital letters. I believed this worked really well–I enjoyed picturing such looks as YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS, and YOU WITH ME?, although veteran middle grade book blogger Charlotte (see her review here) thought this got old.
In Bridge of Time not only do we get a vivid picture of what 1864 San Fran was like, but we also get glimpses of the city at several other times in history, including the future. Joan and Lee get to meet their future selves. The scary weirdness/coolness factor of these encounters are depicted well.
I found the story suspenseful. I always like when place plays a strong role in a story, and in this tale, San Francisco had a starring role. The strong, believable friendship between Joan and Lee was refreshing. I think Mr. Buzbee (See author interview here) wrote a story that is educational, moving and funny.