The Photo Traveler by Arthur J. Gonzalez
I won a PDF copy of The Photo Traveler from Arthur J. Gonzalo as part of a Goodreads.com giveaway. This review, as with all my others (past and those to come) is my honest opinion.
Gavin is a 17 year old boy who seems to have had more than his fair share of suffering in his early life. He leaves his abusive adoptive parents and finds his grandparents who tell him that he can travel back in time by reciting a chant when looking at a photo.
Gavin learns that whilst this hereditary ability can be fun, there are rules which must be followed. He’s also warned of a danger in the form of other families who wish to harm him.
The Time Travel Element
Gavin is able to travel back in time by vocalising a chant when looking at a photo. As a photo traveler he is taken back to the moment in time when the photo was taken. He returns to the present when he recites another chant.
This method of time travel is beautifully illustrated when Gavin meets his parents ‘in’ a photo. When he asks how long they’d been there, they reply (along the lines of) “Same as you – we can’t have arrived before the moment that the photo was taken.” It is a simple restatement of the method of time travel, but I thought it was elegantly expressed in application.
Time experienced in the past occurs in real time – if one hour is experienced in the past, then the photo traveler will have been missed in the present for one hour. Gavin nearly always returned back to the present because he considered he’d be missed.
A single photo can be used more than once, though this never occurred in the novel. It seemed to be a strange oversight, especially given that Gavin had specifically asked the question of whether it was possible to his grandparents.
That said, there was a nice touch was where Gavin and Yogi agreed to meet each other at a location in a photo each of then had access to over the internet.
Given the ease at which a single defined moment in time could be traveled to I felt that a lot of opportunities for time loops were missed. In fairness I suppose time loops aren’t a compulsory requirement in time travel novels (but they do make great reads!)
The Photo Traveler is written in the first person from Gavin’s viewpoint. This makes the novel easy to read and quickly engages the reader with Gavin. Unfortunately, I found that this style of writing became inherently irritating in that it reads as account by a teenager who’s out to impress his mates with a story – a lot of telling not showing, superlatives and over dramatisation.
Even the dialogue from his grand parents was very childish, but I’d like to think that this was Gavin’s ‘translation’ of what they really said into his own vernacular in the narrative.
Maybe this style of writing would be more welcomed by young adults in the target audience…it’s just me that’s too old! 😉
Gavin’s character is key to the novel, given that it is through his eyes and interpretation of events that The Photo Traveler is written.
The references to Gavin’s troubled early years reminded me a little of the Butterfly Effect movie where similarly, the main character had a dark childhood. The events subsequently became hook points in the movie (and indeed, the sequel to the first movie used pictures and not text to time travel), so I was wondering whether there was a purpose to Gavin’s difficult childhood. Gavin’s history, I think, provided a little bit of depth to his character.
I started out liking Gavin who generally sees things in a positive light and tends to put other people first. Or so our melodramatic teenager would have you think of him. It becomes clear later that Gavin’s actions are in juxta-position to his self inflating words and thoughts.
For example, he finds the love of his life in Allana, the sister of one of his college mates. The complication is that Allana was killed in a car crash several years ago, and the only way they can meet is by Gavin’s photo traveling. Gavin has only 3 photos of Allana and therefore feels restricted in that he can only see her during those 3 moments when the photos were taken. He takes no effort to get more photos of her, or indeed, to revisit her by ‘reusing’ any of his 3 photos.
No, he wallows in his own self pity and goes on to have tantrums and fights. My enthusiasm and empathy for him as a young adult fighting to overcome his history evaporated.
His interactions with other characters at times seemed a little overdone. Whereas in a movie these encounters, be they conversations or fights, might last a few seconds, I felt that reading through a couple of pages didn’t add anything to the plot. Then again, this again might have been Gavin’s exaggerated interpretation of events given in hindsight.
I found this a little vague…
At first I thought it may be Gavin’s quest to find his parents, but he finds them very quickly.
Then there was a lot of harping on about vials and being in danger. But there was no real evidence of a continued threat to Gavin. Indeed, I found the whole vial thing and fluid from a purple underground river a little contrived and underdeveloped. Maybe this will turn into something more substantial in subsequent books.
And there was Gavin’s love interest with Allana – his ‘dead’ ‘older’ girlfriend who was living in the past but dead in the present. I found this the most interesting aspect of the Photo Traveler. Gavin had found lots of photos of Allana but had taken only 3. They had a baby. They shared a link through her brother and his mate. This was bursting with time travel opportunities, paradoxes and conundrums, but sadly nothing much seemed to come of that.
Lacking a clear plot, I found myself reading on a chapter by chapter basis, rather than as an entire novel with a clear theme running through those chapters.
A nice touch in the novel was that photo travelers are drawn to photography. Perhaps this would make sense, or be expected, but I thought that this added some depth to an entanglement of hereditary nature and personal interests.
Sadly, aspects of some events within the novel came a little too easily. For example Gavin was able to find his parents within just a couple of days where his grandparents had been unsuccessful; I questioned Gavin’s grandparents’ motivation for not engaging in time travel which came across as a weak get out clause for sitting back and doing nothing.
Gavin’s own motivations and thoughts at times were quite fluffy and lacked solidity. Again, perhaps this age related, but it made things unrealistically too easy. He just knows this is the right photo, and he just feels this connection with this character, and so forth. Typical mysterious lexicon from a teenager? I can’t remember(!) but a little more substance would have firmed it up nicely.
The end of the novel came so abruptly that I re-downloaded my PDF file to ensure that it wasn’t corrupted. It wasn’t. The novel ends in much the same way as most of the chapters – with a melodramatically played out cliff-hanger. Cliff hanger? More like a gentle grassy slope.
By the end of the novel I really couldn’t care less for Gavin, his friends, or family or whatever, so cliff-hangers tended to play very little significance. I was hoping for a conclusion to something or other (to whatever the story line was about…) but there was nothing save for a suggestion to keep my eye out for Part II, the Peace Hunter.
The Photo Traveler is an easy to read novel aimed towards young adults. It has a very interesting method of time travel, and one which has the possibility to open many avenues for time loops and rewritten histories.
Like H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, this novel is written in the first person. It describes events as seen through Gavin’s eyes, a troubled 17 year old who’s had a tough childhood. Unfortunately he’s a bit of a pleb and empathy with him soon deteriorates – his melodramatic self serving viewpoint spoils the novel as the first person style of writing becomes inherently irritating.
Whilst I found the main story line unclear there are several small scale incidents which make the Photo Traveler an easy page turner and a good book to take on a holiday.
There are some very nice applications and expressions of the method of time travel in the Photo Traveler and I’d recommend this novel to any young adult looking for an introduction to the time travel genre.