Welcome to my first Flashbook Friday!
What books from childhood stick out in your mind? Which books did you obsess over? Which books did you feverishly finish in a marathon frenzy? Which books are dog-eared and beaten up from numerous rereads? Which books do you still think back on and say, “Damn, that was a good book”? On Flashbook Fridays, I will go back into my reading vault and take a second look at old beloved (and sometimes reviled) books. Will I still love them, or will reading them as an adult change my feelings?
Having been a teacher’s aide and teacher for the past five years, I’ve been able to look back at school experiences as an adult and go, “Why did I like this as a kid?” Take class parties for example. As a kid, they were GREAT, they lasted FOREVER, and the snacks were AWESOME. As an adult, class parties are kind of boring, with plain pretzels and store-bought cupcakes, and only last a half hour. Assemblies were awesome as a kid, especially when there were improv performers. As an adult, these all seem pretty cheesy and sometimes you wonder if the presenters have any idea what they’re talking about. StarLab however…awesome as both a kid and an adult. Who doesn’t want to climb into a giant tarp igloo and look at a pretend night sky? I wish I could sleep in that freakin thing. Having seen childhood experiences from an adult’s point of view, I wonder how years of becoming slowly but surely jaded will affect my experience of my beloved childhood books. I’m aware I will totally shatter the glass on some of my rosy memories, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
I chose Caroline B. Cooney’s Both Sides of Time as my first Flashbook because I probably read this more than any other book in middle school. I LOVED Caroline B. Cooney because she mastered both romance and suspense. I’ll probably wind up reviewing more of her books so I’ll hold back on gushing over every book of hers right now. I’m talking heightened ERMAHGERD levels of praise here. Caroline B. Cooney is one of the QUEENS of 90s YA literature, and she visited my middle school once and it was HEAVEN.
From my memory and multiple readings as a romantic tween, this book was about a girl named Annie from 1995 who falls back in time and falls in love with Strat, a rich kid living in a mansion in 1895. They ride bikes together and fall in love, even though Strat is betrothed to a girl named Harriett. This is the first book in Cooney’s Time Travelers Quartet, so they hit some bumps along the way in their romance, but that’s as much of the plot as I remember. More vivid are the feelings I had while reading this book. I thought it was the most romantic thing I had ever read. I ADORED Annie and Strat’s love story, thought it was absolutely perfect, and dreamed of meeting a guy like Strat. I was obsessed to the point of consistently daydreaming about this book and wishing I was Annie. Typical 11/12-year-old girl stuff.
Childhood Rating: 5 out of 5 Victorian lovers
Post-Reread: Adulthood Ruins Everything
Things I totally forgot about this book: the murder mystery, 90% of the secondary characters, the obsession with attractiveness, and the ending. As I mentioned before, Annie Lockwood falls back through time from 1995 to 1895. It is the last day of school and Annie goes to see her boyfriend, Sean, who is removing the last items from his apartment in an old mansion slated for demolition. Sean’s a typical bro who’s more interested in fixing cars than paying attention to Annie, so her summer goal is to give him a personality makeover so he’s more romantic. With this plot point, I quickly remembered how shallow this book is. Annie explores the decrepit mansion, where she falls back through time, appearing bit by bit in 1895. She sees the mansion slowly restore back to its gilded glory, and witnesses something that’s confusing at the time, but winds up being the murder of a servant.
Hiram Stratton, Jr., called “Strat”, witnesses Annie materializing and they engage in a bike chase in their meet-cute. He lives at the mansion with his father, stepmother Florinda, sister Devonny, their ward and his betrothed Harriett, and her chaperone Aunt Ada. Strat is all “Ummm where did you come from?” and Annie is all “Where am I?” Then they frolic on the beach, creepily touch each other’s faces, go to the ice cream parlor, and fall madly in love after one hour. Complicating a relationship that almost puts Romeo and Juliet to shame is Harriett, who sees their chaste tryst from a mansion tower.
Harriett is plain. Very very plain with buckteeth and crappy hair and she has a “solid build.” The only other characterization Harriett gets is that her life sucks. She’s fabulously wealthy but her parents are dead, Strat is kind to her but just isn’t that into her, she is constantly followed by pissy-faced Aunt Ada, and Strat’s father refuses to let Harriett attend college. Oh and Harriett is plain, oh so very plain, why would God be so cruel as to create plain girls? Annie makes it sound like plainness is the worst trait a woman could have and she pities the hell out of Harriett once they meet. That’s really the only thought Annie gives to the woman whose almost-fiancé she’s been rubbing her hands all over.
We come to learn Aunt Ada is super bitter about (1) being a spinster, (2) having to chaperon Harriett who is super-rich and super-mopey, and (3) not getting paid for her efforts. Once Harriett and Strat marry, Ada will be out of a non-paying job and into the streets. When she sees Annie and Strat molesting each other’s faces, Ada sees an opportunity to keep herself housed for a while longer. Mr. Rowwells, a friend of Strat’s father, decides to make the moves on Harriett at a ball that night while Strat and Annie are too busy dancing and making boring remarks at each other. All Rowwells has to do is tell Harriett she “looks prettier in the moonlight” and Harriett’s all “fine, I guess I’ll marry you.” ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS TELL HER SHE’S LESS UGLY IN THE DARK. I can’t. There’s also Bridget, an Irish maid carrying on an illicit relationship with a Protestant grocery boy, and Strat’s smarmy douche friend from school with the whitest name ever (Walker Walkley), who factor into the mysterious murder of Matthew the servant.
Notice how I’ve barely mentioned Annie and Strat’s love affair, the reason why I LOVED this book when I was younger? As an adult, it’s harder to believe stories of people falling in love quickly. Especially when it takes a grand total of ten minutes. All they really discuss are the differences between each other’s eras, and how much they love each other without really knowing each other. To Strat, Annie’s a beautiful girl and that’s enough for him to decide he is head-over-heels for her. For Annie, she’s finally found a chivalrous, polite, cultured romantic. They are both each other’s ideal image of a lover. After chasing Annie down and talking to her for a few minutes, Strat decides, and I quote, “Perhaps I should fall in love with Miss Lockwood.” When they flirt on the beach and rub each other’s faces Annie thinks, “having met Strat, now [I own] him.” The relationship already has problematic currents running through it and it hasn’t even been a half of a day. Annie sticks her hands in Strat’s pockets so he can keep the sea glass she collects, she kisses his forehead…how many times have you intimately touched someone you just met and decide you’re in love?
The one thing Annie and Strat do end up connecting over is their family strife. Mr. Stratton is currently on his third wife and Annie has discovered her father has been cheating on her mother. Strat refuses to follow his father’s example and Annie never wants to be fooled like her mother. The stress and pain of a broken family is timeless and allows Strat and Annie to understand each other despite the differences in their demeanors and customs.
Another topic that continually comes up is gender roles. Harriett wishes she could go to college, while Mr. Stratton would never dream of such a thing. Aunt Ada has little worth to others due to her unmarried status. Walk’s father is proud of him for fathering children on his maids, putting his bastards in an orphanage, and sending his spurned lovers away to jobs in other mansions. Mr. Stratton tells Strat it’s fine to have affairs as long as no one finds out because boys will be boys. Florinda, Strat’s stepmother, is regarded as a simpering, weak fool who only exists to be pretty, but has unfortunately failed to pop out a male child. Unfortunately Annie doesn’t give Victorian gender roles much thought as she always winds up dazzled by some fancy upper-class Victorian custom such as dressing gowns and private railroad cars. Devonny, Harriett, Bridget, and even Florinda are our dissatisfied, dissenting voices. They wonder how their lives would be different if they were men, or if women had more freedom and respect. While this was awesome to see, it was disappointing that our main female character ignored all the reasons why it SUCKED being a woman in the 1890s because she was too busy feeling sorry for “all the plain girls in all centuries.” Like, okay Annie, maybe Harriett has buckteeth but at least her goal is college whereas yours is to have a romantic boyfriend.
Being an adult and having a better idea of the inner workings of romance tainted my enjoyment of the love story at the heart of this novel. It was far-fetched, shallow, and obsessive. Not Twilight-levels of obsession but enough that Strat is distraught over the disappearance of a girl he’s known for twenty-four hours. There were still some parts where I thought they were being sorta-cute, and then they’d immediately do something gross and annoying like making kissy faces at each other across a crowded table in front of the girl Strat’s supposed to marry. I guess it’s a good thing I no longer find face-groping and making kissy-faces with a stranger the height of romance.
I appreciated the attention paid to the treatment of women in Victorian times and loved Devonny for being such a firecracker with her independent opinions. The murder mystery had me guessing until it became blatantly obvious who the culprit was. Thinking back, this book may have sparked my interest in mysteries and thrillers. Despite its faults, this book will always hold a special place in my heart, and I still love it. I have been obsessed with finding another time-travel romance to sweep me away as Both Sides of Time did back in 1997. Then, last year, I decided to watch an episode of Outlander on Starz…
The book ends on a cliffhanger that left me devastated in middle school until I realized there were sequels. There are two more books about Annie and Strat and another about Annie’s brother Tod and Devonny. I may have to reread them all. Oh, and if you think Harriett got the shaft in this novel, wait until the next one…
Adulthood Rating: 3 out of 5 plain-looking smart girls