Time travel proves tricky in fast-paced 'Tempest'

Feb 26 2012 - 8:29am

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"TEMPEST." By Julie Cross. Thomas Dunne Books. $17.99. Age 14 and up.

The dramatic potential of time travel has been exploited for decades in kid lit and in recent months has become something of a micro trend in modern young adult fiction, with books including Jay Asher's "The Future of Us" and Ian McDonald's "Planesrunner."

There's something about the vicarious thrill of watching characters alter life as they know it, the escapism of moving between realities, that's irresistibly adventurous and empowering. In "Tempest," the kickoff to a thriller series for young adults from debut author Julie Cross, the rules are just slightly different from other titles predicated on the ability to bend the laws of physics.

As Jackson Meyer explains in the book's journal-entry opener, "(I)t's not as exciting as it sounds. I can't go back in time and kill Hitler. I can't go to the future and see who wins the World Series in 2038." Alas, Jackson can, at first, merely "jump" a few hours into the past, as he did when he first discovered his unique ability: During a French poetry class at New York University. One minute he was dozing off; the next he was waking up to a door slamming in his face outside a campus dormitory.

Whether Jackson's talent is a gift or an affliction is unclear as the book begins. He has no control over the day, time or year to which he travels. Nor is he able to alter the present through his actions in the past. In fact, Jackson often returns to his real life in 2009 dressed inappropriately for the season. Occasionally, he even lands in traffic or wakes up in a park. He has no idea why he's able to time travel, but doing so starts to provide some answers.

Jackson grew up believing that his mother died in childbirth and that his father was the chief executive of a pharmaceutical company, the latter of which explains Jackson's pampered upbringing in Manhattan's finest private schools and his ownership of a BMW MX5 sports car at the tender age of 19. But during an unintentional trip back to 2003, Jackson, who remains his 19-year-old self regardless of the year he visits, overhears a conversation that makes him suspect his dad is part of the CIA. The plot only thickens from there.

Writing about time travel is tricky enough due to the many logistical problems it presents about which objects and people can make the jump, what events can be altered and whether more than one version of a person can exist. Cross overcomes these barriers with careful plot work and subtle reinforcements of her time travel rules as the action unfolds. Still, it's a complicated story that requires careful reading to keep track of converging subplots involving genetics, espionage and the bonds of family.

"Tempest" is written from Jackson's perspective with a humorously questioning tone and a time- and date-stamped narrative to guide readers through his many time travels. That story line is supplemented with occasional journal entries that underscore Jackson's confusion and help him piece together the meaning of his unusual ability through extensive documentation of his experiences. "Tempest" is at its core an origin story, but it is also written for young adults, so a complicated romance is never far behind.

In Jackson's 2009 reality, he's falling in love with Holly but too afraid to tell her -- until a shooting prompts some unintentional time travel that traps him in 2007 and forces him to woo her anew, with personal information he knows from Holly's future.

The first in a trilogy, "Tempest," ends on a bittersweet note that recalls "Twilight," which is appropriate since "Tempest" has been picked up for development by Summit Entertainment, the film company that transformed Stephenie Meyer's bestselling "Twilight" saga into an even bigger blockbuster for the big screen.

It's likely readers will want to time travel to early 2013 to read book No. 2 in this fast-paced and inventive series.

-- Susan Carpenter

Los Angeles Times

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