Review: Making it Home (Suzanne Roche)

Making it Home (Suzanne Roche) is a very well written time travel novel aimed at younger readers. The time travel method is interesting and reminiscent of old style computer adventure games with a series of sub-plots which tie together under a general theme. And as you might expect, when the time travel method uses an encyclopedia, you’re bound to learn something during the adventure!

Making it Home by Suzanne Roche is Book 1 of the “Time to Time” series.

Clearly the first thing to be mentioned here is that the time2timetravel HQ heavily endorses that name! 😉

Making it Home with an encyclopedia

Reading and reviewing this book was a new experience for me, and one which admittedly I approached with some trepidation. Making it Home is aimed at middle grade readers (8-12 years old) which is too young for me and too old for my eldest daughter. What would I want with it?

Exactly. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to read it! And besides, we usually live our lives only once and I thought well let’s live life on the edge then. I’ll read a children’s book for myself and then see whether I’ll give it / read it to my daughter later when she’s old enough.

< sarcasm tag > Yes, sometimes I am quite the daredevil! < /sarcasm tag > – and admittedly I was also interested in the games and things included in an appendix at the back of the book! (The recipes I’m going to pass to my wife – her place is not in the kitchen, but considering that I can burn a boiled egg she usually winds up there well before I dare to make that particular expedition! 😉 )

Brief synposis

Peri, Henry and Max find themselves transported from an antique room to a ship full of immigrants sailing to America in 1892. Whilst Henry and Max are troubled and just want to get back home, Peri is enthusiastic about witnessing events in history. They come across a number of key historical figures who have various problems which are resolved with help from the time travelling trio.

First impressions

It shouldn’t be, but I’m finding that reading a children’s book on a commuter train is quite embarrassing. Other travellers will (correctly) judge this book by its cover and reduce my reading age by a few decades. And if they’d care to look into the pages that I’m reading they’d see pictures. Ah well, let them think I’m reading a children’s book in a Dutch train to improve my English then!

A small note then about the pictures – the quality isn’t that great; they are dark and small. And actually, the font size is small too (maybe to reduce page number and cost? ) which may make it harder for a child to read. And if you’re reading to your child, then small text and small dark pictures will render the book pretty much useless other than to use as a script.

But…some of the pictures are useful and add a certain sense of weight to the text. For example, there are pictures of actual historical documents which are featured in the novel, or old photos of bustling streets and of how real children in that time dressed. In a way, they serve as ‘proof’ of some of the extensive research Suzanne must have carried out.

Perhaps it is strange, but I found that I didn’t look at all of the pictures – I forgot! Maybe it’s a good thing that I was engrossed in the text – or was I manipulated in that the pictures help to reduce the amount of text on a page which might be off-putting for a young reader? (Or for me? 😉 ). Indeed, there are some pictures which are hand drawn and don’t seem to serve any real purpose other than give credence to my point above.

Sitting between “additional research” and “text breaker” is an image I particularly liked – an old photo of “The Brooklyn Bridge Heading into Manhattan” (on page 136) as it reminded me of a closing scene in the movie “Gangs of New York” during a fading from the past to the present:

Brooklyn Bridge
Figure of Brooklyn Bridge reproduced with kind permission.
Brooklyn Bridge in The Gangs of New York movie
Brooklyn Bridge as seen in the closing scene of Gangs of New York (Image credit: http://jackhayearts.com/styled-7/files/brooklyn-bridge.jpg)

Writing style

I don’t know how Suzanne does it, and I can’t put my finger on what it actually is, but when I read I’m almost hearing myself reading it to my own kids. The writing style is superb. There’s probably an official term for the tense used but I’d call it a lively cross between past and present.

The main characters are Peri and her two younger step brothers Henry and Max. Thankfully, aside from usual sibling rivalry they get on with each other. Troubles between step-, half- and adopted children are a bore to read. It’s an easy (lazy?) way to insert predictable tension into a book – but more importantly it’s not a good lesson for children. Many of these relationships are successful and go well. Contrast this with ideas pushed by Disney, for example, to the point that my eldest told me she no longer wanted to be a princess because “…princesses have mean step mummies”. Dream killed, ‘Well done’ Disney.

Thankfully that doesn’t happen here! 🙂

Making it Home is a busy novel in itself and also with facts woven into the prose – but there’s still space found for some character development. Henry is working through his scout badges but showing nervousness when it comes to displaying skills for first aid. Max wants a pet dog but he’s not allowed one. And then there’s the star of the show – Peri.

Peri has an incredible thirst for knowledge. She’s pragmatic, solution orientated and down to business. At the same time she’s kind-hearted and simply draws readers towards her!

She’s the one who gets her idiot brothers into action. She moves them – and the plot – forwards, not in a cold and efficient manner, but in a humanitarian spirit. Actually, she’s the kind of girl who might well tell me off for saying that the pictures and font sizes are too small and difficult for young readers, although that said, I couldn’t quite work out the ages of the children. Maybe Peri is older than the target audience.

Admittedly I’m probably saying this as a proud Dad of 2 daughters, but I’m pleased that the main hero is a heroine! 🙂

Time travel with an encyclopedia

I might be tempted to say that the travel method is unrealistic, but to be honest I’d be a cretin if I did. This is a children’s book not hard core science fiction, and having 2 young daughters means that I’m predisposed towards keeping magic and fantasy alive for them for as long as I can.

A bunch of keys are put on top of an encyclopedia, and the next thing they know they’re on board a boat heading for New York in 1892. To return to the present (i.e. to “Make it back home“) they need to [showhide type=”pressrelease” more_text=”Spoiler alert! Show time travel method. (%s More Words)” less_text=”Hide time travel method (%s Less Words)” hidden=”yes”] observe and hold each of the keys in their historical setting. [/showhide]

Realistic or not, I thought this was a great idea! It turns out that one of the keys belonged to Annie Moore who was a fellow passenger on the ship heading towards New York. Another key belonged to an Italian family they helped (with a minor Godfather moment when they expressed their gratitude “If we can help you someday…” 😉 )

encylopedia and time travel
The power of books in time travel!

Where does the story line go? Exactly. Peri, Henry and Max don’t know what they need to do to get back home to their own time but there seems to be an underlying theory that they should observe and witness events. Along the way they encounter characters with various problems which they feel compelled to help resolve. This reminded me of the Quantum Leap TV show from the early 90’s, or even like one of those old adventure computer games, finding objects (keys) before progressing to the next level – usually in a different time.

This latter point is a good one – that Making it Home doesn’t obsess on one particular historical moment but introduces the reader to an array of historical periods.

I thought it unusual (or very impressive) that the youngsters could recognise the keys, but this is a minor detail in the greater scheme of things.

I’ve discussed before about the direction that a “time travel novel” takes. Making it Home seems to take on a bit of both the journey and the destination side of time travel. The time travel method is certainly touched on and questioned (by Peri); it’s central to making it [back] home, and there’s also a comment about changing history.

(Actually the children end up being responsible for Roosevelt helping Jacob Riis in cleaning up New York and making conditions better for immigrants. I suppose it could be argued that the past has already happened – even if it includes trips to that past by time travellers, as in The Time Traveller’s Wife).

Anyway. This isn’t the focus of the novel which is really more about witnessing, observing (and interacting…) with events in the past. So it has a strong ‘destination’ base, and certainly it’s this aspect which helps educate the younger reader.

A couple of nice points

I mentioned earlier that the time traveling trio don’t remain in the same time. When they first meet Riis he burns his hand quite severely. There was a nice reminder of this event when they meet him again some yeas later and note that his hand had healed.

In a similar vein, Peri arranges to meet the Italian family that they helped out earlier to call their favour. At this point the younger reader is reminded of how the help was given in the first place – the author clearly understands the needs of her readers!

Personal education

This bit will probably show my honesty (and ignorance): I had no idea who Annie Moore or Jacob Riijs or any of the other characters were. So I maybe I was like a child as I was reading – and now I’ve been educated!

Ending

The only thing I didn’t like about Making it Home is the ending. Actually, I mean the very ending – leading up to the final page was an interesting angle on the encyclopedia which was published after it was put away! I’d loved to have seen that idea developed a bit more, though I concede that it would probably have been too ‘advanced’ for the target audience.

But generally speaking the final chapter was a disappointment. Peri, Max, and Henry return to the present and there are questions if it was all a dream, and then the ‘cliff hanger’ was so lame and cheesy that I cringed when I read it. I suppose I’m going to fall back on what I’ve said a few times already – I’m not the target audience, and maybe young readers need this cheese. I can’t remember!

Rating * * * * *

I’m giving this the full 5 stars because I like the time travel method, the way the (return) method drives the plot forwards, and its appeal to younger readers. The writing style is clear and active and draws the reader into the plot. And a special thumbs up for Peri! 🙂

Paul

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “Making it Home” from Word Slinger Publicity to read and provide an honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

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Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Making it Home by Suzanne Roche
Author Rating
51star1star1star1star1star

Author: Paul Wandason

I love astronomy and science fiction, but I love my family more. So I love time travel too!

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