Thursday, October 13, 2011

Time to Go Back by Mabel Esther Allan

I haven’t read a time travel story for a while, so I was really looking forward to reading Time to Go Back. Londoner Sarah Farrant, 16, is home recuperating from pneumonia after spending a night in jail, arrested in Trafalgar Square for demonstrating against what I assume is the Vietnam war.

Bored with staying home, she wanders into the family’s junk room and discovers a book of poetry written by her mother’s older sister, Larke Ellesmore. There were some love poems in the book, but also some poems about the destruction caused by World War II. Entranced, Sarah wants to know more about this long-ago-would-have-been aunt who died in the war, yet seems to understand exactly how Sarah feels. And Sarah gets her chance when her mother takes her to see her grandmother in Wallasey, the town where she and Larke had grown up, across the Mersey River from Liverpool.

On the evening of March 11th, while walking home to her grandmother's, Sarah suddenly finds herself back in 1941, where she meets a young man named Hilary who warns her to get to safety before the German bombers arrive. Sarah is stunned to discover her grandmother’s house is all boarded up and looking abandoned, but as soon as she puts her key in the lock, she is returned to the present.

Sarah finds herself inexplicably returning to the past a number to times between March 1941 and May 1941, dates that are crucial to the story. She is able to meet and get to know not only Larke, but also her 14 year old mother, Clem, and her much younger grandmother trying to cope with the war and two headstrong daughters while he husband is away at war. Sarah also finds herself very attracted to Hilary, a real dilemma since this young Hilary exists only in the past.

But Allan manages to pull this coming of age story together, even if it is in avery predictable ending.

Allan very nicely captures the flavor of the early 1970s in Time to Go Back, when young people involved in the peace movement were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam. But she also shows, through Sarah's friends, that many were not a committed to peace as much as they were to simply venting their youthful rebellious feelings and causing a scene.

Her depictions of the bombing of Liverpool and Wallasey are really very vivid, since they are also autobiographical. The destruction, the loss, the struggle to cope that faced people day after day are all very realistically portrayed by Allan.

And yet, despite the good points, this novel is a bit weak. I think it is the predictability that is the culprit, since Allan was a fine and very prolific writer. I did like her method for effecting time travel – one minute Sarah was in the present, the next in the past – that simple. But, sadly, despite witnessing the devastating power of war first hand, Sarah’s well meaning activism seems to get lost and I found that very disappointing. 

Oh well, Time to Go Back is still worth a read, but I would only give it a weakish recommendation. Which I hate to do because of the poems.

The poems that first caught Sarah’s attention are scattered throughout the novel and, in the novel, they are attributed to her aunt, Larke. In fact, these are poems written by the author herself during the war. And they are quite lovely. Consider this poem about the night of March 12/13, 1941 when Allan witnessed the first heavy bombing of Wallasey:

I saw a broken town beside the grey March sea,
Spray flung in the air and no larks singing,
And houses lurching, twisted, where the chestnut trees
Stood ripped and stark; the fierce wind bringing
The choking dust in clouds along deserted streets,
Shaking the gaping rooms, the jagged raw white stone.
Seeking for what in this quiet, stricken town? It beats
About each fallen wall, each beam, leaving no livid,
Aching place alone.

This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up
This book was purchased for my personal library
Be sure to visit the Mabel Esther Allan page at Collecting Books and Magazines for a complete list of her books.

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

Since I only gave Time to Go Back a weakish recommendation, it seems fitting to pair it up with Twining’s Enlish Afternoon Tea, which tastes nice, but is rather weak. If you like a nice strong cuppa, and I do, this is not the tea for you.

Time to Go Back
Mabel Esther Allan
134 Pages

And last but not least a nod to the war protesters of the of the 1960s and early 1970s

This is book number 16 of my Forgotten Treasures Challenge hosted by Retroreduxs Reviews


  1. Very visual poem - gives a stark picture of war devastation!

    This is all quite a fascinating book concept and you have, in spite of the weak recommendation, made me want to read it. Think I'll pass on the tea, however.

  2. I really like the idea of this book and it is an interesting time to travel back to- but it sounds like it is more a read than a must read. :) I may pick it up at some point! Thanks for the review!

    I found you through Book Blogs and signed up to follow you. When you have a chance- please stop by and follow the blog for my middle grade novel that I am hoping to get published.
    Also, my co-author, Stephanie, liked your fb page today. Please like us back at:

    Take care-
    Jess- although I may show up as Fairday, the main character from my novel. I can't figure out how to fix it. :)

  3. Very interesting. I often wondered what it would be like to meet my grandparents as young adults. To experience their struggles and what they went through during WWII.

    Of course, there is always the chance they won't like me...

  4. Joyce, you might actually enjoy this book because of the poetry, which is hauntingly beautiful.

    Jess, I am glad this sounds like a book you might like. Good luck with your book and I will stop by and check it out.

    Zohar, maybe because I didn't know my grandparents, I didn't think of meeting them. But now that you mention it, I would like to go back and meet my mother and father during WW II.

  5. Twining's teas are always a little weak for me. Like you, I prefer my tea to be really strong!