The Jericho River by David W. Tollen has a brilliant concept – to use time travel to take a teenager back in time and lead him through the ages to show YA readers “the history of western civilisation”.
I must admit that the beginning had me worried. The prologue starts with a dream from the main character, Jason. (This is the second novel I’ve read within a couple of months with this name. July, August, Septemer, October, November?) Typically in a movie or a crap novel a dreamy beginning often serves as a premonitional introduction to set the scene. I hoped that this wasn’t the case here!
Then we turn in more detail to Jason. He swings from being an idiot brother to his 8 year old sister to a caring brother, then back to being a twat again. He’s set against his dad and shows him no respect. But he’s 16 and his mum isn’t around and that might explain his behaviour – but it doesn’t mean I need to like it!
David W. Tollen writes in some beautiful details which really reminded me of being Jason’s age, and in one case even made me reminisce about the ability to repeatedly call the snooze function on an alarm clock (my wife hates it when I do that!) My confidence in the novel was restored!
Jason’s told that his Dad is in a coma but also in another world and needs rescuing. Somehow he’s transported there in an Inception-movie-like manner, being reminded that time in the world of “Fore” passes quicker than it does here in the real world, and that death in Fore means death here (like in The Matrix movies).
This idea of “Dream Voyaging” is hastily presented and all very rushed, though we come back to it in 135 pages’ time where it’s explained that the world of Fore is created from dream energy which hangs around in the ether when we dream. This dream energy takes on the form of a world – Fore.
It’s a nice idea which explains why everyone (including Jason) hears everything in their native tongue, but I thought it a little strange that Jason’s companions don’t seem to be bothered that they are little more than reconstructions of other peoples’ dreams. Should they be? It’s a question that was explored in Inevitable (Steven Cotton).
That said, later on it’s revealed that this link between worlds works in both directions – what happens in the world of Fore can shape the dreams – and therefore the reality – of our real world.
The (Jericho) River of Time
The time travel element comes in here in that the passage of time differs between Fore and the real world – but there’s another element too. As Jason and his companions travel down the Jericho River they also travel forwards in time (relative to their time of entry into Fore). The Jericho River can therefore be thought of as the river of time! 🙂 )
I feel it should be mentioned here though that time travel in The Jericho River is more of a tool to introduce the reader to different eras than anything else. Indeed, it isn’t clear from the writing (aside from the footnotes – see section below) that sailing downstream signifies going into more modern times. And naturally being set in Fore, there was little (if any) reference to passing time in the real world.
Further, there’s no real feeling of passage of time within Fore itself, other than a few random sentences such as “A few weeks later…” etc.. To be fair, I think David W. Tollen here is well aware of the time it would take to travel on foot or by boat or whatever from one place to another and although it isn’t well integrated into the plot, he has duly stayed on track by stating the correct details by giving them a passing mention.
Jason needs to travel through Fore in order to find his Dad and save him. Along the way he encounters a number of characters and places, and this is the key in educating the reader to the history of western civilisation.
The writing style is good, but I found The Jericho River difficult to really get into as it is so ‘loud’. Jason always seemed to be meeting super honourable and worthy people and beings. I’ve found that many YA books have extravagance and melodrama in them, and whilst mercifully Jason doesn’t display any of that, the general content does.
For the most part Jason doesn’t really know where to go on his search, so it’s pretty much pillar to post. Underlying the search for his Dad, Jason is wanted by “The Rector” who has plans for him. Clearly this was injected into the story to deliver some tension, but it’s seriously dragged out; by page 200 there’s still no clue as to what it’s about. Some 50 pages later it becomes clear – and it’s a huge disappointment. It reads as though there was a time deadline and the author needed to rush. It’s illogical, weak and unrealistic. 🙁
At this stage of the novel I was becoming increasingly interested in the frequent footnotes. For the most part these are presented as excerpts from lectures given by historian Professor William Gallo (Jason’s father). These footnotes are fascinating! They are very well written and contain a wealth of information describing culture, events, or background information etc. relevant to what is occurring at that moment in the novel.
Sometimes, and especially towards the end of the novel, it seemed like everything was getting a footnote. “Jason smelled cigarette smoke” Footnote: “Tobacco comes from…” sort of thing. It’s a bit over-done. Still, they’re evidence of a phenomenal amount of research.
Explanatory footnotes in the form of notes from Jason’s Dad is a really nice idea, but on a practical note it was sometimes difficult to know when to read them when there were no natural breaks in the main text. Of course this is often true with footnotes but they are especially numerous (and integral) in The Jericho River and indeed, at times I wondered whether the novel was written not to tell a story but as padding for the footnotes – rather than those footnotes being supporting material!
I should mention one thing here about the footnotes: many of them question the originality or authenticity of the Bible, accusing it at one time, for example, of undertaking “holy plagiarism”. I’m Christian, but I’m not against questioning the Bible. (Indeed, the Bible even encourages it!) Whether what’s presented in The Jericho River is true or not isn’t my concern here (though I will mention that there is an easy ‘explanation’ to the above crap about plagiarism), but I raise the point here on two counts.
The first is that it’s unbalanced. There aren’t any such comments about other holy books (and naturally I’d stipulate that it would be much easier to question the authenticity of those!) – Tollen / Gallo directs his attacks only towards the Bible.
My second point is probably more serious – how would the younger reader in the target audience deal with this kind of information where seeds of potential doubt are sown? Would parents approve? Indeed, if a reader is young enough to welcome the hand drawn pictures which are included amongst the text then I think that the same reader is young enough to need some form of parental guidance.
Rating * * *
3 stars (but see footnote! 😉 ). The Jericho River has a great concept but sadly it’s not well executed. Generally speaking it has a weak story line and Jason’s quest is haphazard with key points in the plot either glossed over or rushed and spewed out. Time travel is a tool used here to bring history to life, but this is not a time travel novel per se – indeed that particular tool is not wielded well. The Jericho River might work as a novel for a young adult but I really can’t see how an adult can find the plot engaging.
Footnote: * * * * 4 stars!
The strength of the novel though lies in the factual information which the young reader will glean from reading the footnotes in the context of Jason’s adventure, and from an educational stand point The Jericho River is well worth looking into; it transforms the idea of history (and history teachers) being dry and crusty and brings it to life. And on that latter basis I’d give it 4 stars.
I’d like to stress again though, that The Jericho River needs parental guidance for some children in some cases.
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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “The Jericho River” from the Cadence Group to read and provide an honest review. This is it!
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