Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Running Out of Time

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.

Have you ever dreamed of living in another time? As a kid, I used to watch “Little House on the Prairie” on TV and wish I could be Laura Ingalls. Who am I kidding? I still do. The idea of living in a “simpler” time, one where people lived on the land, self-sufficient, has always appealed to me.

imageThat’s why Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (February 1, 1997; $5.99) was so attractive to me. The premise of the book is fascinating. Thirteen-year-old Jessie lives with her family on a frontier village in Clifton, Indiana in 1840....or so she thinks. When children start suffering from diphtheria, her mother secretly reveals that they actually live in 1996, and the village is a tourist site. The tourists watch the villagers through one-way mirrors and cameras placed strategically around the village, and Jessie must escape to find help to prevent children from dying.

How would a child who had lived her whole life in 1840 adjust to 1996? It was a fascinating idea. The first half of this science fiction novel is definitely intriguing. It forces the reader to view the modern world in a whole new way. Modern toilets are amazing compared to outhouses. Telephones, radios, and TV are strange. I remember my mother telling me once that when TV first came out, my grandma was standing in the living room alone, changing her clothes in front of the fire. When the TV anchorman came on and started talking, she jumped and rushed to cover herself. Then she laughed as she realized he couldn’t see her!

As the book progresses, however, it takes a turn toward the dark side. (Spoiler alert! I give away the rest of the plot in this paragraph.) A man who unleashes the diphtheria on the village as a science experiment is trying to kill Jessie. Meanwhile, Jessie navigates modern-day Indianapolis and holds a press conference to draw attention to the children’s plight. She saves the day for most of the children (a handful of the children die), but ends up in the hospital with diphtheria herself and separated from her family. Meanwhile, all of the remaining village children are removed from their parents’ care and placed into foster care. The father ends up in psychotherapy and the village is broken up.

While I greatly enjoyed the first half of this book, I was disturbed by the conclusion. Haddix may have thought that no other ending would be plausible, but I think the ending would scare many kids. To introduce the concept of being forcefully separated from one’s parents by the government would frighten some less sophisticated readers. Moreover, if you are a homesteader, you might want to avoid this book, as by the end, it portrays people who live a back-to-the-land old-fashioned lifestyle as “kooks.” Overall, I would give the book three stars (out of five), with a warning.

The book states it is for readers 8 – 12 years old, but I would say it is geared toward the top of that spectrum, since there is the threat of murder, drugs (the villain tries to tranquilize Jessie with a sedative in her water), dying children, and encounters with social services. Though all of these themes are gently touched upon, they are touched upon nonetheless.

These dark elements reinforce my desire to live in an earlier time. But I am reminded when we tent camp how immensely grateful I am to the men who invented indoor plumbing.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 11 and 14, with a keen interest in historical fiction for young adults.

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