What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Bridge of Time, Lewis Buzbee's follow-up to his award-winning Steinbeck's Ghost, takes Lee Jones and Joan Lee, two present-day San Francisco middle-schoolers, on an unexpected trip into the city's past and future -- with a young Mark Twain as a tour guide. Adding to the drama: Each kid's parents have just announced that they're getting divorced, and the two friends are about to get sent to different schools. While time travel, history, mysterious strangers, racial discrimination, personal growth, family drama, and Mark Twain's literary career are sometimes an uneasy mix, today's kids may feel right at home in the chaos. Twain witnesses and writes about the fatal beating of a Chinese man by Irish butchers, who later blow up an unoccupied boat, and two shotgun-toting women fire shots at the butchers, but no one is hurt.
What's the story?
It's the last day of school for San Francisco middle-schoolers/best friends Lee Jones and Joan Lee, but it's a really bad day. First of all, both kids' parents have chosen this moment to announce that they're getting divorced. Also, Joan's parents are moving her to a different school, and the BFFs are worried they're never going to see each other again. Just when things couldn't get any worse, their class field trip to the amusement park gets canceled, and they get stuck going to Fort Point, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, for the gazillionth time instead. Disgusted, the two sneak off from the group to discuss their troubles, doze off in the fort's lighthouse, and wake up to the fort's cannon firing -- in 1864. Soon they're talking to a strange redheaded young man named Sam Clemens, who tells them quite a bit about how time is a river but isn't so sure how they're going to get back home.
Is it any good?
Lewis Buzbee is a very good, imaginative writer with both an ability to bring history alive and a real insight into the world and concerns of today's bright, engaged kids. Characters Lee and Joan ring true, even in improbable situations. Buzbee is quite fond of Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, and readers who find L'Engle too preachy may see a bit of the same going on here. For example, presenting Lee with a future version of himself telling him everybody's much happier after the divorce will strike many readers as smarmy. And not everyone will be satisfied with how the author resolves all the book's issues.
On the other hand, between the well-drawn characters, the history, the time travel, and the sheer local color of San Francisco over several centuries, Bridge of Time offers plenty to reward multiple reads.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about time travel -- would you travel into the past and future if you could? Where would you go, and what would you do?
What do you most take for granted in your everyday life today that you'd have the hardest time living without if you were suddenly transported to 1864?
Do you have more appreciation for Mark Twain's stories now that you've seen the author as a character in a story? Do you think he was really like the character in Bridge of Time?
Do you agree with Joan that you're supposed to learn something from every adventure, or is it OK to just have fun sometimes or do things for no reason?