The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon is a soon to be released young adult novel introducing Jack, a self-deprecating and entertainingly sarcastic fifteen year old boy with a knack for automotive repair and self-acceptance beyond his age. He suffers from epileptic seizures that have him despairing that he’ll ever be allowed to drive or live without padding on all the hard surfaces in his home. By the time we catch up with him, Jack has suffered through numerous attempts to medicate his condition. When his mother enrolls him in a clinical study for children with epilepsy, he’s not thrilled or optimistic that anything life-changing will come of it. Boy, is he wrong.
Using an engaging and entertaining narrative voice, Maroon draws us in quickly and takes us on a journey into the past. What seem to be hallucinations caused by the epilepsy study are actually trips back in time. Our hero drops into the middle of a story pitting a power-hungry con-man and his gullible followers against a small but dedicated resistance. Our hero’s efforts to assist in that resistance are inconveniently interrupted by unpredictable time shifts. Though it’s not a joy-ride, it isn’t without it’s pleasant — if initially confusing — moments of romantic and sexual awakening.
A couple of chapters in, I had a hard time putting this book down. As with any good speculative fiction, this story sent me down a lot of mental side paths. I already think about gender and identity quite a bit and this story added a few new twists. For example, how much of our identity is dependent on our current physical bodies? Do our identities change along with our bodies or do we transcend the physical? How flexible is identity and gender? Though the topic of time travel has been explored countless times in sci/fi and fantasy, I enjoyed Maroon’s new take on it and I’m eager to read more from him on the topic.
Gender and sexuality are essential features of the storyline but Maroon handles them with a light touch, letting the characters explain and demonstrate their importance, rather than lecturing the reader. This approach is matter of fact and refreshing. From my perspective as a fiction writer, I have been thinking a lot about how to treat gender, identity and sexuality in ways that don’t sensationalize or beat the reader over the head with moralizing and lecturing. I’ve found it a bit challenging, as enamored as I am of talking about gender until the cows come home. Maroon’s approach is to let gender and sexuality take their place with other characteristics such as height, hair color and favorite color and with about as much drama as one might encounter when looking in the mirror and discovering a new freckle. Shifts of gender are a curious addition to Jack’s reality but not one that throws him off the rails for long.
The Unintentional Time Traveler is great fun, an adventure story carried along by humor and grace, love and courage. Jack is not your typical teenaged boy, even without the epilepsy and time traveling. He’s generous and honorable and accepts his fate with a grace beyond his years. There’s a lot we can learn from this kid.
Whether you are a fan of sci/fi, of young adult fiction, or you’re interested in fiction delving into topics of gender, sexuality, identity and gender non-conformity, this is a great addition to your collection. The Unintentional Time Traveler is book one in the Time Guardians series and will be available from Booktrope Editions, on February 24, 2014 in paperback and electronic formats.
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