Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Once Was a Time

Once Was a Time

Spring 2016 Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: leila Sales
Publisher: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 978-1452140094
Hardcover Price: $16.99

Lottie's scientist father has always talked to her and her best friend Kitty about time travel. Both girls know that in the extremely unlikely event they were ever to see a portal and step through it, they would have no way of knowing where and when they might land. The chances of finding another portal in the new time and place would be next to nil; they would be lost to their home in 1940s Britain forever. To Kitty, this sounds like an adventure; to Lottie, it simply sounds frightening. So it is cruelly ironic that, when the girls are kidnapped by German spies trying to blackmail Lottie's father, it is Lottie and not Kitty who sees the portal and steps through it to escape. Lottie lands among kind folk in a small town in Wisconsin in the year 2013. But she is unable to tell her new foster parents and friends about how she has come to be an orphan. She misses her home and family. Most of all, she is tortured by guilt over leaving Kitty and her father in Nazi hands. If she is not a loyal daughter and friend, then who is she? When Lottie chances across a postcard from Kitty slipped into a copy of her favorite book, she becomes convinced that Kitty has found a portal and determines to track her down.

Once Was a Time has the potential to slip rather easily into cliché, as bits of World War II historical novel merge with a time traveler's anthropological, defamiliarizing view of the reader's own time period. Sales's novel, however, effectively puts the focus on Lottie's identity crisis in shifting from one time to another and in betraying her friend and her former self. Lottie's sympathetic and thoughtfully developed character is easily the strongest aspect of the novel. The secondary characters, such as Lottie's well-meaning but vapid foster parents, are more overdrawn and less convincing, with the exception of Jake, Lottie's socially awkward Wisconsin friend. The plot is engaging and fast-paced, and Lottie is appealing enough to convince the reader to suspend a great deal of disbelief (for example, Lottie has an exceptionally easy time finding a permanent foster home). Middle-grade readers will enjoy this new novel, whether they are history buffs, time travel aficionados, or simply observers of the popularity politics of school.

Naomi Lesley   ©2016 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

Share This