Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Genre: Fiction, young adult, time travel, pirates, romance, you can have your American history and travel to other places in time too!
Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
Summary: Taking place across time (but not space), Alexandra Bracken’s latest novel follows a violinist name Etta, who finds herself embroiled in a quest to save her family and her timeline from the Ironwoods, a devious lineage who uses history for their own nefarious purposes. It’s the time traveling pirate romance you never knew you wanted!
The first book in a duology, the beautifully written Passenger follows violin prodigy Etta on the adventure of several lifetimes, as she’s taken to the past, joins up with super friendly pirates and learns the shocking truth about her family tree and her ability to travel through time. You know, pretty typical teen trials and tribulations.
Due to the time travel elements, the scope of the novel is huge, taking readers on a journey through present day New York, 1940’s London, Paris in 1880, a number of exotic locales, and even 1776 … New York City!
While the novel may take a bit to really get started, once it does the characters hit the ground running.
The two protagonists you really need to concern yourself with are travelers and time-crossed lovers Etta (the aforementioned violin virtuoso) and Nicholas, a “legal” pirate and servant to the Ironwood family, a group of individuals who bend the course of time — especially in the investment department — to live in comfort and luxury, all while protecting their timeline from three other traveling families.
In addition to having to navigate (pun intended) being from different times in history, Nicholas and Etta are also struggling with race and gender issues, a strong theme Bracken brings up throughout the story. I especially loved the way Etta explains these problems to Nicholas in a 21st century context, saying that while things are better for women and minorities than they once were, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
While Nicholas and Etta were both wonderful, fully-fleshed out characters, they weren’t my faves. Instead of the main characters, I felt myself drawn to Sophia, a problematic young lady essentially shaped by her unfair familial circumstances and her gender. I’m rooting for you girl! I would also love to see some more Julian in book two, regardless of how it’s done.
As far as plot goes, despite the time travel aspects, things don’t get too timey wimey, although I found myself confused about the guardians (those from traveling families who cannot travel) and whether or not they live inside yearly time loops so others can find them.
Another question I kept coming back to was if the characters would ever travel into the future. Even though I think this would be a super exciting prospect, I don’t see Bracken taking things there. Instead, it sounds like she found a much more interesting solution. After all, there’s nothing more awkward than a really bad future prediction. I’m looking at you 2016 fax machines!
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the novel however — and any media with time travel — are the fish out of water shenanigans, including Sophie learning about the possibility of a woman president and the first time precious cinnamon roll Nicholas sees an airplane. More of this if/when our travelers visit the present please!
- Intriguing (if occasionally confusing) premise that had me hooked
- Beautifully written and fully realized, especially in terms of themes of inequality
- Awesome characters, minus Nicholas in the final scene
- A YA novel without a love triangle is a beautiful thing
- Suffered from some slower portions (all time travel all the time please!)
- “…. Right now all Etta wanted was to … Work her muscles, the bow, the violin, until she played herself to ash and embers and left the rest of the world behind to smolder.”
- “Like any girl, she still felt the echoes from earlier eras of repression.”
- “Her death wasn’t a conclusion. It wasn’t the end.”
- “… He wasn’t doing a damn thing other than a passable impression of a gargoyle.”
- “… What she found in that soft, warm darkness had no beginning and no end, for this time was their own, and it created its own eternity.”
Surprisingly, Passenger isn’t the only time traveling young adult pirate novel coming out this year. For more of the same (although how can it possibly be as good?) check out The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, which hits shelves in two weeks on February 16.