Happy Monday, guys!
My MMGM this week is the extremely unusual and whimsical time-traveling tale, Once Was a Time by Leila Sales.
In her middle grade debut, Sales introduces us to Charlotte, who lives in Britain in World War II. She inadvertently gets caught up in her scientist father's time travel research, and ends up in a place she never expects...
Expected publication: April 5th 2016 by Chronicle Books
Format read: ARC via publisher
But when Charlotte's scientist father makes an astonishing discovery that the Germans will covet for themselves, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety. Should she remain with her friend or journey to another time and place? Her split-second decision has huge consequences, and when she finds herself alone in the world, unsure of Kitty's fate, she knows that somehow, some way, she must find her way back to her friend.
Written in the spirit of classic time-travel tales, this book is an imaginative and heartfelt tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship.
In Once Was a Time, Sales introduces us to Charlotte "Lottie" Bromley and Kitty McLaughlin, two best friends growing up in 1940. Against a backdrop of rationing, war and anti-German sentiment, Lottie is grappling with the idea that her father has done the impossible and figured out the secret to time-traveling.
However, such discoveries come with a price. Lottie and Kitty are kidnapped by German scientists, and Lottie ends up traveling through a portal to 2013. Now, as she tries to adjust to a life she never imagined, she grapples with the memory of the friend she left behind...
So, what readers should know from the get-go, is that this despite the description, Once Was a Time isn't strictly a time-travel story. Yes, time-travel acts as the instigator for Lottie's journey into the future. But outside of that one instance of travel, the actual phenomenon of time-travel is more or less never discussed for the remainder of the novel.
Does this detract away from the story? Absolutely not. Because as Lottie adjusts to life in 2013 and to the United States to boot, Sales makes it a point to illustrate a thoughtful, occasionally heartbreaking look at just what it takes for one girl to adjust to extraordinary circumstances beyond her control. It isn't just a question of learning new things; it's a question of coming to terms with the idea that everything and everyone she knew is now likely gone, and through no fault of her own.
Lottie actually makes it a point to look up her family at one point, and the end result is exactly what one might assume. While one would expect Lottie to grieve, Sales makes it a point to emphasize that pragmatism about the situation, and how she's very much retained the "keep calm and carry on" mentality that many likely had during the war. It's actually refreshing to see just how positive Lottie is about her new life; it's not what she wanted, but darned if she won't try and make the best of it - through new friendships, relationships and more.
While her old life eventually comes back to haunt her vís-a-vís a mysterious postcard from Kitty, Sales makes it a point to balance her pursuit of her old life with normal teenaged antics - e.g. an awkward, burgeoning friendship with a not-so-popular fellow student - which serves as a reminder of just far Lottie has come, and also a nice reminder of how normal and consistent teenagers are in every generation.
Though the ending is whimsical and occasionally sad, it's also a perfect end for Lottie's journey. Without giving spoilers away, Sales shows that life really is what you make of it, and Lottie is able to find a new, happy normal in a situation she never anticipated.
Bottom line: While Once Was a Time definitely wasn't what I expected, it was a beautiful tale about friendship, family and personal strength. I highly recommend this book for fans of contemporary fiction, and for fans of Leila Sales.
About the author:
Leila Sales is the author of the young adult novels Mostly Good Girls, Past Perfect, This Song Will Save Your Life, and Tonight the Streets Are Ours. She grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Chicago, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Once Was a Time is her first book for younger readers.