The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick, besides being a fantastic book, also happens to be one of the first books to be published by the brand new imprint Algonquin Young Readers. I want to take a paragraph here to tell you about Algonquin Young Readers, the recently created arm of Algonquin Books, publisher of acclaimed best selling books for adults such as Like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Last year I had the pleasure of hearing Elise Howard, former senior VP at HarperCollins Children's Books and editor of Neil Gaiman's Newbery Award winner, The Graveyard Book, and now the originating editor and publisher of Algonquin Young Readers, talk about the flavor and feel of the kind of books she wants to make up her list, which is debuting with two YA titles, two illustrated chapter books and one middle grade novel, The Time Fetch. Howard hopes to publish books that have "characters that I want to spend hours of my life with" and also "might entice a casual reader to become a true reader—that’s probably the biggest reward in creating books for young readers." These are two top-notch qualities that I always appreciate in kid's books. I can't think of anything more amazing than being given the chance to create and curate a collection of books, each and every one reflecting your own personal passion and taste. As a bookseller, I got to do that to a certain degree, recommending books that I loved to customers. Working for a literary agent, I have had the thrilling privilege of reading submissions and watching manuscripts go through drafts and take shape, and is incredibly exciting as well. But to think of starting at square one and shaping, guiding and building a line of books that people will come to know for possessing certain qualities - that sounds second only to actually writing a great book, I'd say!
With The Time Fetch, Amy Herrick has written a book that asks to be read carefully and slowly, or, if you must tear through it to see how the story unfolds, which I did, then I beg you to read The Time Fetch twice so that you don't miss out on the rich imagery, the delectable writing and the intricate threads of the plot that unravel and weave themselves back together, much like Time itself does over the course of the novel. The Time Fetch is set squarely in reality, in this case the modern day Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, populated by four wildly different eighth-graders who are drawn together by one common denominator - the Time Fetch. But, like a dream, the familiar world that you think you know quickly begins to shift and slip, expand and contract, and morph into something else altogether when the Time Fetch is removed from its hiding place. The prologue explains the nature of a Time Fetch and how it comes to be in our world in such a poetic fashion that I hope you will indulge me as I quote it almost in its entirety:
First there was the doorway. It appeared high up in the black of a midsummer night. Round as a hoop, the rim glowing faintly, it stayed open only long enough to allow the Fetch to pass through. Then it was gone.
The Fetch itself, was not made of anything you could hold in your hand, but was tiny and bright as a single ash blown out of a bonfire. It irritated and offended the darkness and the darkness began to coat is in a smooth and pearly casing the way an oyster does when a grain of sand gets into its shell. This hardly solved the problem, for as the thing grew bigger it began to hum excitedly.
In annoyance, the night spat it out.
It shot across the sky in a swift arc. Unless you knew what you were looking for, you would have mistaken it for a shooting star. Its pearly shell was translucent. Its insides shone out a bloody gold, the color of your hand when you hold a flashlight against it in a dark room. The humming grew louder. Inside the Fetch, the Queen and her foragers had begun to awaken.
As they fell down from the cold glory of the stars into the trembling air, the Queen sang out invitingly.
A hungry and half-cracked old owl heard the thing passing by. He plucked it out of the air. In his mouth, the warm Fetch took a nutlike shape. The owl perched on a branch and tried to open it with his beak, but to no avail. The thing was much too hard. The bird whacked the shimmering shell against the branch, but that didn't work either. At last, extremely frustrated, but too hungry to give it up, the owl swallowed the thing whole and flew off. The Fetch, of course, was indigestible and burned the owl's stomach. Restlessly, the bird flew over field and town and forest. For reasons he did not understand, he found himself heading toward the great city where he had been born. When he landed, at last, in the high branches of an oak in a small city garden, he tried to make himself comfortable. But he was miserable all night long.
At last, toward morning, he passed the wretched thing, covering it in an excellent camouflage of green excrement. Down it plummeted, humming with excitement, and landed in a tangled bed of ivy.
The owl, tremendously relieved, flew off to his destination feeling better than he had felt since he was a nestling. Morning came. Inside the Fetch, the foragers and their Queen were wide awake and hungry.
The Queen and her foragers eat leftover Time, Time that will not be noticed when its gone. The Keeper gathers this Time, collecting the saturated Fetches, and uses it "where is needed, sometimes even to begin new worlds. Naturally, such a treasure is prized from one end of the Great Web to the other. Not least, of course, by the ones whose work is to undo it." When the Time Fetch is mistakenly retrieved from a garden patch and taken to school for a science assignment as an example of a glacial moraine rock, the story is set in motion, bringing together four unlikely classmates, Edward, Feenix (real name Edith), Danton and Bridget. In these four, Herrick has created one of the most unique gatherings of personalities in a fantasy novel since Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs.
We first meet the anti-protagonist, Edward. A phlegmatic realist, as a general rule, Edward does not believe in anything, that is, he had "come to believe that reality was largely a hoax . . . Everything might appear solid. But it wasn't. It was 99 percent empty space. . . The things that people believed in, the things they kept themselves busy with, were just ways of convincing themselves that their lives weren't completely random and unimportant." Unfortunately for the orphaned Edward, he lives with his Aunt Kit who believes in a lot of things, most of them outside of the norm, and takes them very seriously. Aunt Kit, a master baker who runs a test kitchen from home and teaches classes elsewhere, is preparing for December 21st, the longest night of the year, also known as the Winter Solstice. There is baking to be done, of course, and decorations to hang and precautions to take, most of which Edward scoffs at. Almost six feet tall, Feenix is a bit of an anomaly - her mother is half Jewish and half Italian and her father is from Ecuador - and one of her eyes is a bit higher than the other. Feenix embraces her oddness. Where Edward tends to retire from the world, hoping to sleep through life, or at least go through it with a tolerable amount of invisibility, Feenix challenges the world and gets in its face, or at least gets in Edward's face. Never calling him by his real name (mostly he's "Dweebo," but also Edsel, Eddie, etc) Feenix makes it her mission to wake Edward up and push him to the forefront however she can. When these two clash and Feenix finds herself lifting Edward's rock - the Time Fetch - the tall, gregarious, athletic and perpetually hungry Danton (of him, Feenix thinks, "His skin was obviously the product of some ethnic funny business like in her own family.") and the silent, grief-stricken, pale Bridget are drawn into the fray.
When Danton steps in to help Edward get his rock back from Feenix, a chase through Prospect Park ensues, observant Bridget close behind. As Feenix races over a bridge and loses them, she finds herself somewhere else altogether and the plot takes another twist as she and the Time Fetch fall into the hands of those who wish to undo the work of the Keeper and use the powers of the Fetch to their own advantage. With Feenix out of sight and almost completely out of mind to those who knew her, it is up to Edward and Danton, with the wordless urging of Bridget, to find Feenix and the Fetch before the foragers destroy the fabric of our world absolutely. For, as Aunt Kit tells a sneering Edward, without time, "everything would happen at once. . . If everything happened at once, there would be only darkness and chaos. . . Time is the One who gives birth to order, the One who makes the weaving of the Great Web possible."
Rescuing Feenix and the Time Fetch is only the start. With a cryptic grocery list from Aunt Kit as all they have to guide them, the four set out into the unraveling city as the Winter Solstice draws near, tempted by cozy coffee shops, threatened by stone panthers that come to life and forced to cross patches where time has been completely obliterated, causing them to age uncontrollably. I don't think I'd be giving too much away if I tell you that The Time Fetch ends beautifully at Aunt Kit's annual Winter Solstice party where tables groan with sumptuous dishes, a tree is decorated with glittering lights and curious ornaments and guests play their instruments and sing against the darkness outside. And, while the event of Winter Solstice is a central part of the plot that drives the action, I especially like that Herrick presents it as a winter holiday, describing Aunt Kit's preparations and reasons for this celebration. Although Edward initially thinks his aunt and her ideas are beyond crazy, as someone who celebrates this holiday, it is so exciting and refreshing for me to read a book in which celebrating Winter Solstice is part of the plot.
The Time Fetch is stands out among so many of the other middle grade fantasy books I read and images and ideas from it will stay with me long after I have read many more middle grade fantasy books. I can't wait to see what the coming season brings from Algonquin Young Readers!
Source: Review Copy