Once Was A Time

I am probably the only person on Earth to have not found this charming, fun, or particularly interesting.  As with any book, your mileage may vary.

2016 must be the year of the time travel book.  Once Was A Time is a middle grade time travel, so I definitely didn't expect it to be super-intricate, but I did want something, well, exciting.  Thought-provoking.  Instead I got a tired story about two friends separated by 70 years because of dubious time travel portals and Nazis (maybe???).

I know, I'll back up.  Lottie and Kitty are best friends.  They tell everyone that they are sisters, even though the only thing about them that's similar is their eye color.  Lottie and Kitty live in Bristol during WWII.  The Battle of Britain means constant worrying about air raids, blackouts, and rationing.  Lottie's father, Professor Bromley, is obsessed with the idea of time travel.  This obsession drove Lottie's mother to leave them and go to London (which, as Lottie observes, is a rather absurd thing to do when people were fleeing London for the countryside).

After a longish introduction establishing that Lottie and Kitty are BFFs, they are kidnapped by secret agents and used as a bargaining chip with Professor Bromley.  The agents are convinced that he's figured out how to use time travel, and if he doesn't tell them, they will shoot Lottie and Kitty.  AMAZINGLY, Lottie spies a shimmering portal in the air that is exactly what her father said a time travel portal would be like, and leaps through as the guns fire.

She wakes up hot and uncomfortable in a place very different from Bristol.  For one thing, the sun is shining.  It's hot.  Lottie wanders up to a house where she meets a boy her own age, Jake, who convinces his older brother to take them to town.  Charlotte heads to the library, where she finds out that she is in Sutton, Wisconsin, in the year 2013.

The library bits were actually what really began to grate on me.  The librarian, a young woman named Jennifer Timms, *doesn't notice* that Lottie is sleeping in the library.  Actually, she does, but doesn't do anything about it for a few days.  That is just ... no.  That's not how it works.  We sweep the buildings at night.  You never, ever, ever leave someone in the library after close, even if you don't want to *bother them* or if you suspect they've been abandoned.  Especially if you suspect they're all alone!

Miss Timms teaches Charlotte how to use The Internet (invented by Al Gore c. 2000), and she discovers that everyone she loves is dead.  Her father and Kitty both died in Brighton on the night that she leapt through the portal.

Cue incessant scenes of guilt.  Lottie even says, "In that moment, I could have tried to pull Kitty with me.  It might not have worked, but I could have tried.  Instead I dropped her hand and ran the few feet between me and the shimmery bit of air."  I know I should be kind and understanding but if Charlotte really loved Kitty as much as she claims (which is basically the whole point of the book), she would have pulled her through.  But then we'd have no story, I guess, so Charlotte has to make this horrible decision that made me feel very impatient every time she felt all guilty about her actions.

Thankfully, Lottie assimilates really quickly to life in 2013, going to the mall, blithely accepting being placed with a foster family, and going to middle school.

She falls in with the Mean Girls and is generally not a nice person, but eventually figures out why and how things happened the way they did.  There's an odd time jump after the first third of the book, but Lottie doesn't sound or act any older than her ten year old self as she ages, which is a huge red flag for me when I'm reading.  The ending was so saccharine that my teeth hurt.

To be completely frank, I didn't read the middle of the novel, but skimmed.  Therefore I may have missed plot points, etc.  Excoriate me for that if you will.  Worse things have happened.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.


  1. I have to confess I once wrote a ghost story about a boy who somehow falls asleep in a public library reading Tolkien and manages to lay a ghost who missed out reading the last bit of the book, by reading her the last scene, that ends with Sam Gamgee coming home. It was published, too. Hey, I was paid $50 for it! And it wouldn't have worked without that premise! ;-)
    It wouldn't have been too hard for this lady to ask her local library staff to suggest ways in which the girl could get away with it.
    I wonder why this British girl ended up in the U.S.? Why not in modern Brighton?

  2. Actually, the girl wedges herself in the bottom bookshelf, making me wonder just how big the shelving is at this small-town library!

    I'm not so concerned with how she did it but that the librarian knew about it and was cool with it. Because she was a Cool Librarian with short hair and dangly earrings. ;)

    I think the reason for the U.S. is so that she would have this American culture-shock thing and everyone would squee over her accent. There's also this running ... well, it's not a joke ... bit where people say they like her British accent and she lectures them on how she is, in fact, English, and not Irish or Scottish or Welsh, ergo she does not want to say British. I have friends from Northern Ireland and Ireland, and I get that, but I wonder how many kids really ... have an interest in the politics of the British Isles?

    1. I imagine kids in the British Isles would have some interest. Yeah, I have a friend from Belfast who gets terribly annoyed when people think her accent is American - and another from Glasgow, ditto!

    2. Wow! My friend who's from Belfast sounds nothing like an American! That's an ... interesting leap.

      Because we Americans are cultural heathens, I (alas) don't think that kids here would realize there's a difference. Maybe this would teach them about it.


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