96. A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler
Publication: Candlewick (October 11, 2011), ARC paperback, 292pp / ISBN 0763655953
Genre: MG Sci-fi/Fiction
Read: August 9, 2011
Source: Publisher (thank you!)
Summary from Amazon:
Jenni Green’s family vacation has finally arrived! Even though she has to deal with her annoying little brother, her slightly overbearing dad, and her very pregnant mom, she gets to spend a week with her bestest friend in the world, Autumn. But twelve-year-old Jenni’s world turns upside down when she takes an old elevator to visit Autumn and discovers that everything has changed: not only is her friend in a different condo, but tragedy has struck Autumn’s family, Jenni’s mother has had her baby, and everyone is a year older. When Jenni realizes that the elevator caused her to skip a whole year, she tries to go back, but soon finds that fixing things won’t be as easy as pressing a button. How can she alter the past and keep her family and Autumn’s from falling apart? With honesty and insight, Liz Kessler explores how the bonds of family and friendship can endure through time.
Note: There are probably some spoilers in this review.
I haven’t read any of Liz Kessler’s other books, although I’m familiar with her Emily Windsnap books (and I think I have the first one on my Kindle). I knew she wrote cute, light-hearted, funny books, and while A Year Without Autumn deviates a bit from that idea it’s still a very enjoyable book.
A Year Without Autumn deals with a tough subject– the longterm illness of a child and how that affects everybody, including alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression– but it’s still, for all that, reasonably light. I sympathized with the characters and I felt really badly for them, and the story was both tragic and weirdly exciting. I also really like time travel books, if only because they do give you the chance to go back and fix things.
The “fixing things” part, however, is tripping me up. Of course I liked it when Jenni managed to get back in time to change the course of events from something horrible to something better, but by the end of the book it almost seemed to me like…things were getting better.
While I think Autumn and her family would be forever damaged by what happened to , it did seem to me that everyone was starting to…well, to move on. Things weren’t the same as they were before, but they were heading towards a direction that was somewhat less dark. I mean, Autumn and her family needed some serious therapy, but Jenni’s family at least was starting to realign itself.
Obviously the version of events that Jenni eventually makes happen is better than any other version, but that doesn’t mean that the other version is necessarily completely terrible. You know what I mean? Horrible things happen, but that doesn’t mean that we collapse completely forever. Eventually, things do get better, if not entirely happily-ever-after.
So it was really confusing to me when those “getting better” things were what eventually broke the final straw on Jenni’s camel’s back. I suppose that’s because I’m not a 12-year-old any longer and I don’t think that getting remarried after a divorce is the worst thing ever1, and, yeah, the camel-breaking straw was probably more about what had happened to Autumn’s mental state than what happened to Jenni’s family. But something about how relatively easily everything was fixed struck a nerve.
It’s a sci-fi novel, so it’s not exactly real life, but in real life you can’t just erase things and pretend everything’s better.2 In real life, people have to deal with dead siblings and broken marriages and unhappy parents, and I almost think A Year Without Autumn would have been a stronger book if the ending had reflected that.
It is, however, an MG book3, so I can understand the happy ending. And I do like happy endings, don’t get me wrong!4 But…for this book, I’d have settled for an “everything’s going to be okay eventually” kind of ending. I think it would have been more…poignant, I guess. More realistic? More interesting, for sure.5
An overall enjoyable book, although I disliked the ending.
Charlotte’s Library: “The first-person present voice, which at first made this seem a light read, comes into its own beautifully as Jenni struggles with the dislocation of time travel, her horribly changed relationship with Autumn, and the terrible events that have transpired. It becomes a gripping page-turner, right to the very end.”
My Favorite Books: “Jenni’s character goes through this tremendous character development from the quiet, shy, reticent one to the girl who takes charge of a situation and almost through sheer will of character and inner strength, reforms what has gone before, to fashion something far better.”
Does anyone else agree with me about the ending? Or am I just completely off the mark?
- Duh, as that’s what my parents did. ↩
- Especially not when there’s always the possibility that something new could happen that’s just as horrible, which starts the cycle all over again anyway, and this time it really wouldn’t be able to be fixed. ↩
- It’s advertised as a YA book but it felt more like an MG book to me– maybe because, for all that the emotions were deep and dramatic, it was a little bit too black-and-white. Which is why I had that major rant-y thing up there about the ending. ↩
- I especially like it when little kids aren’t put into a coma and then die after years of vaguely being alive. ↩
- I don’t know why I’m so into ambivalent endings all of the sudden. It may have something to do with Waugh. ↩