Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When by Annette Laing

This is a time travel story centered on a mystery with a bit of a twist. When Hannah Dias and her brother Alex must move from exciting San Francisco to dull and boring Snipesville, Georgia, they are not happy campers. And camp at the local college is exactly where their father has them enrolled – Alex in baseball camp, Hannah in a writing program. Alex is a disaster at baseball, as is Brandon Clark, a fellow camper. Naturally they gravitate to each other. At lunch, Alex and Brandon run into Hannah and that is the end of camp, but the beginning of their time travel adventure.

The three new friends decide to head to the library to play computer games, but while there, Brandon finds an old ID card stuck in a book called Children in Wartime Britain, 1939-1945 and belonging to a boy named George Braithwaite. Meeting a history professor at a computer terminal, she explains that everyone in World War II England was required to carry this kind of identity card, and suggests that the owner may be living in Snipesville and had left the card in the book. But as the kids leave the library, they notice that the campus has changed - they no longer are in Snipesville, but in 1940 England.

They are quickly swept up in the evacuations taking place by a woman named Miss Tatchell, turned over to her by the rather shady Mr. Smedley, from the Ministry of Health. Hannah recognizes Miss Tatchell as the history professor they met in the library. Brandon, convinced she can help them get back to their own time, runs off to find her, but runs in Mr. Smedley instead. Next thing he knows, he is on a train back to London with Smedley.

The story gets a little complicated from here. Brandon, after arriving in London, is caught in a Blitz that enables him to get away from the devious Smedley, but in a time travel twist, he winds up in 1915 England, where he becomes an apprentice to the local dentist, a kind Scotsman named Mr. Gordon. Meanwhile Hannah and Alex are billeted with an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Archer. Mrs. Archer is a distrustful, nervous, paranoid person, who calls Smedley after a while to have Hannah and Alex placed elsewhere. Luckily, Hannah learns what is happening and she and Alex run away in the middle of the night to the home of Mrs. Devenish. Mrs. Devenish is the local magistrate, a woman with some authority in a world when women didn’t have much of that, and who, unfortunately, thinks that Hannah is somewhat of a spoiled brat. Yet, despite already having an evacuee and her granddaughter living with her, she agrees to take in Hannah and Alex.

At first, the kids have no idea why they have traveled to wartime England, but slowly, very slowly things unfold that lead them to the end of the mystery – they don’t exactly solve it so much as they are necessary actors in the events that lead up to the solution of what has happened to a young black evacuee named George Braithwaite who has gone missing. The story was a little slow in the beginning, but not to the extent that I was tempted to put it down. I did like the way the author dealt with time travel- no explanations, no gimmicks. Hannah, Alex, Brandon and their surroundings just morph. Even their 21st century American accents, clothing and money morph into1915/1940s English accents, clothing and money. The name Dias is anglicized to Day, but Brandon becomes George Braithwaite in 1940, George Clark in 1915. And Hannah IS annoyingly bratty, complaining about everything, which annoyed me as a reader, whereas the boys had a much more go with the flow attitude. Brandon is an interesting character because he is black, a point that is emphasized and turns out to be a vital part of the mystery. I also liked the way events unfolded as the kids got closer to solving the mystery, it kept me reading late into the night to find out what happened. For example, I kept wondering why Brandon ended up in 1915 England instead of staying in 1940 England, and why the Professor kept showing up but seemingly not helping?

I liked this book. I found it well written, and the depiction of 1940s England realistic, as is the workings of a dental office in 1915 – not a place I would ever like to be in. It is definitely a book for middle grade readers and the time travel element may make it a tempting read.

I sincerely hope that now, between Keep Smiling Through and Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When, I can finally get the words to We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn out of my head. I think I will have to take it off my IPOD for a while.

We’ll Meet Again
Words and Music by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles
Recorded by Vera Lynn in 1939

Let's say goodbye with a smile, dear,
Just for a while, dear, we must part.
Don't let the parting upset you,
I'll not forget you, sweetheart.

We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smilin' through, just like you always do
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.

So will you please say hello to the folks that I know
Tell them I won't be long
They'll be happy to know that as you saw me go
I was singing this song

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day

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