Monday, April 11, 2016
Review: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Title: Passenger (Passenger, #1)
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Rating: 3 Stars
I fell in love with Alexandra Bracken's debut when I first read it. So much so that I returned it to the library only to check it out a few months later for a re-read and continued on this path until I eventually forced my local Barnes and Noble to order a copy for me and bought it. It's a gorgeous little paperback that still brings me an inordinate amount of joy.
Needless to say, I was expecting great things from Passenger. Despite not having read The Darkest Minds, I knew enough from reviewers that it had been well-liked and I was confident that Bracken's latest would be nothing short of brilliant.
In some ways, it is.
Passenger is about a young violin prodigy named Etta. Growing up with her single-mother, Rose, and violin instructor, Alice, it has been Etta's dream to become a professional violin player. When a performance at the Met goes tragically wrong, however, she is dragged back in time to 1776 by a stranger named Sophia Ironwood. The Ironwoods are one of the last remaining families of time travelers and, according to them, Etta's mother stole an important artifact from them seventeen years ago and went into hiding. Now that they've found her, they're holding Rose hostage until Etta can find the astrolabe and return it to the Ironwoods, all within a span of days.
I am always bowled over by the unique premises of Bracken's work. We haven't encountered a world quite like Passenger in YA fiction and I don't know why. It is a rich, well-developed concept that I thoroughly enjoyed, especially as the introduction of new information was timed perfectly and never felt too much like an info-dump.
What's more, I really appreciate that Bracken took the effort to discuss meaningful issues in her exploration of history and the strides we have since made--or failed to make. Sophia, for instance, is shocked by the freedoms that Etta takes for granted in the 21st century and struggles, throughout the novel, to find agency in a world that disregards women. Nicholas, the young African American sailor who is abandoned by the Ironwoods, can't believe in a world where he isn't constantly stared at, scrutinized, or thought to be a slave. When Etta travels to places like Damascus, she's shocked at the thought that modern-day Syria isn't the thriving city she's witnessing from the early 1600s. It's a nod to a multitude of issues that plague us, globally, today and I really appreciated it.
But, I don't think it was enough. I wanted Bracken to do more with this set-up; explore different countries and discuss their history or contrast them more with our modern-day world. I wanted her to tackle issues of cultural appropriation, women's rights in different continents (but not through a lens of white feminism), approach economies and wars from a changed perspective. I wanted her to discuss time on a deeper level--that woozy contradiction between destiny and choice that inevitably arises in a time-travel novel. I just wanted MORE.
More than angst-ridden thoughts from Nicholas's (mostly) unnecessary perspective. More than a romance that seemed a little too convenient, a little too like insta-love for me to fully get behind even though I did begin to warm to this couple on multiple occasions. More than paragraphs I wanted to skim through as these two traveled from place to place and time to time as if pulled along by a string with only a few truly notable thoughts and experiences in each. Most of all, more than another sex-positive YA novel that fails to discuss contraception--hello! I really think Etta might wind up pregnant or with STIs in the sequel! Is no one else worried?--and falls back on common tropes.
Passenger isn't a bad book, by any means. It's unique, compelling, and I really love Etta's voice and character. It's a fascinating approach to time travel and is easy to read and simply fall into. But I definitely wanted more from this story, in many ways, and though I'll probably be reading the sequel, I doubt I'll enjoy it much unless aspects of this story change dramatically to produce a much more mature, thoughtful novel. Definitely recommended, just with reservations--this is one I can see a lot of teens loving but perhaps some readers will be a little disappointed, just as I am.