Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I put off reading this book for a long time, despite it being listed in recommendations and it being talked about by readers’ whose opinion I trust. It looked like just another YA book with a heroine who discovers a special power and I am a bit tired of those.

I was wrong. This is a richer, deeper experience than a YA girl discovers a special power and falls in love with a boy. This is about a violin prodigy whose cold-seeming mother has been telling her bedtime stories all her life that suddenly take on a frantic importance when Etta discovers she can Travel– move through time. And that her mother’s family is using their network of spies and Travelers to find both Etta and an important object.

Etta and her sailor-boy spend enough time in different locales (Cambodia, Damascus, Bombed-out London) not only to savor details and cultural goodness, but also to experience all the resulting issues from sailor-boy being black. And that sensitivity, as well as the emotional relationship between them despite difference in knowledge of Traveling, era, and race, that made this book rise to the top for me. Also the adventuring. Lots of cool dagger throwing and shooting and discovering of temples and sarcophagi.

Here’s the spot in the story where I felt that peculiar pleasure of realizing this was going to not only be a fun adventure story, but a story that helped me think about the way the world worked. They’re in World War II London and sailor-boy has gotten suddenly irritable just walking down the street with Etta. “You idiot, Etta told herself. What a privilege it was to never feel like you had to take stock of your surroundings, or gauge everyone’s reactions to the color of your skin. Of course he felt uncomfortable. Of course. And if he’d never been to this time before, he wouldn’t be able to predict people’s reactions.”

I just went and ordered Wayfarer, next in the series, because I must find out what happens. The main quest is resolved at the end of the book, but the over-arching problems of how Etta will handle her new found family and new found love are left hanging.

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