In the opening chapter of middle grade novel Counter Clockwise, by Jason Cockcroft, (2009, 202 pages), Nathan receives the news that his mother has died. The next chapter finds Nathan living with his father in a condemned apartment building. There is a dumpster nearby in which a fire has been burning for 23 days. For several years when I lived in Phili I lived across the street from a bar that had a dumpster, and I do recall there was a fire in it one night. But 23 days? I wasn’t clear if Nathan was living in a dystopian reality or just a rough neighborhood. Oh, and there’s a dog that can chew bubble gum and blow bubbles. Magical realism? You tell me.
What if your mother were hit by a bus?
And what if your father disappeared one day through a hole in the bathroom wall?
Is there a way to change the course of your life’s history?
What if time moved [sic]
In this dazzling debut novel, Jason Cockcroft has crafted a mind-bending adventure with a startlingly original narrative structure.
The power of Nathan’s father’s grief over Nathan’s mother’s death (he was actually divorced from her) propels him into the past where he tries to change the events of that fateful day. Nathan ends up time traveling too. They relive this day a few times, in varied ways. I love “Groundhog Day” type time travel plots in which the characters relive one day, acting slightly differently each time, with sometimes hugely different results. Car accidents are of course compelling. However, I have read two other books where the characters time travel to a day when someone got hit by a vehicle that are much better: The Power of Un,(my review here) and Rewind (my review here).
Nathan is not a distasteful character, but we hardly get to see him solving problems, as he mostly just ricochets through time, reacting to the circumstances in which he finds himself. I found the supporting characters rather one-dimensional. Nathan has a best friend in the book, Moll, but at the beginning of the book he doesn’t even know she lives with foster parents. I couldn’t believe a kid wouldn’t know this about their best friend. The friendship didn’t move me.
There were several details I found confusing in the book, some having to do with fanciful happenings that were probably attributable to the time travel magic going on, but I wasn’t clear how they were connected. Also, the time travel “portal” was not well developed or explained. There are nice pen and ink drawings above each chapter heading, and some moments of mild humor.