A Handful of Time, by Kit Pearson (1987, 186 pages), is a time travel story notable for its extraordinary character development. Also, it’s the first book I can recall in which the main character becomes invisible when travelling back in time. While invisible, Patricia gets to spy on her mother, who is twelve years old when Patricia sees her. Who wouldn’t want to experience that! I know it was written only thirty years ago, but I’m putting this one on my classics list because it has proven to be popular over the past three decades and I believe the rather timeless story will continue to hold up for several more.
Here’s the summary of the book from Goodreads:
When Patricia’s mother sends her to her cousins’ cottage for the summer, Patricia doesn’t want to go. She doesn’t know her cousins at all, and she’s never been good at camping or canoeing, let alone making new friends. When she arrives at the cottage, her worst fears come true: her cousin Kelly teases her; Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Doug feel sorry for her. She doesn’t fit in. Then Patricia discovers an old watch hidden under a floorboard. When she winds it, she finds herself taken back in time to the summer when her own mother was twelve.
At first glance, the plot sounds unremarkable. Dozens of middle grade time travel books begin with the protagonist being forced to stay with relatives for a year, or a summer. However, the characters are so finely drawn that they really bring the story to life. In most time travel books when a character journeys back in time they have to explain their presence and learn to survive in the past. Because Patricia is invisible when she goes back in time, she is spared this. She is almost like a ghost from the future. There is still the initial confusion when Patricia struggles to make sense of what she is seeing, but she catches on pretty fast. Having the time traveler be invisible afforded some unique opportunities. Patricia doesn’t play any tricks on people, other than moving her mother’s bratty brother’s chess piece, but being unseen allows her to observe her mother’s family of origin closely in a way that she otherwise could not. Although the author was spared solving a lot of typical time travel plot problems, I never felt she was cheating. 🙂
Patricia being able to see her mother, Ruth, when her mother was young changes her relationship with her mother forever in a way I will not reveal. As an adult, Ruth is a perfectionist, and somewhat cold toward her husband and only child. She is beautiful and works long hours as a TV personality. Patricia find out that as a child Ruth was already beautiful, but didn’t fit in with her family in many ways. Ruth was treated more harshly than her brothers due to “genderism” (as my son used to say), or the expectation that a girl should behave in ways befitting a young lady.
I loved the lakeside setting of this story, as it is a well-nurtured fantasy of mine to spend a summer at a lake. Ironically, I’m sure this fantasy was fed by reading books at an impressionable age that, like this one, make lake life sound wonderful 🙂
I always find it interesting the way other countries/cultures interpret the central theme of a novel and design its cover. From the author website, here are three for A Handful of Time:
This book received the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award.
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