by Alexandra Bracken
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.
There are some fantasy worlds full of characters that are written so thoughtfully and with such precise care that they leave you nearly breathless; leave you feeling as if you are somehow intertwined together by an invisible thread. There are some stories that are richly woven with the appropriate amount of romance and adventure to complement men and women who portray the embodiment of a multifaceted being: full of weaknesses and flaws but who remain as strong as titanium. Full of honor and grace, intellect and the slightest shimmer of arrogance. Stories that thrill you, make you feel, and remind you to believe.
Passenger is one such story.
Living a slightly extraordinary life in modern Manhattan, the lovely Etta Spencer feels disconnected. While perhaps an introvert at heart, Etta tries to find a sense of grateful in the fact that her music continually propels her into the spotlight of the carefully curated world of fine arts in the upper echelon of city society. Few friends and few adventures are two statements that round out a life of dedication and stringent discipline. She will succeed at music. Or at least, that’s what her mother and tutor says. She is a prodigy and her career was written in the stars long before she decided to grab hold of it.
On the stage is one place where can let go. She allows herself those fleeting moments of pure and unadulterated joy; of letting go and feeling the music coursing its way through her veins, filling her up from the soul on out. But it doesn’t stop the nerves, or really give her any sense of true purpose. It doesn’t give her adventure. Romance. Excitement.
On another plane, in another time is a young man named Nicholas. Growing up in a time where the color of his skin is a hinderance to a life of freedom, he has had to make tough choices along the way. But he has finally been able to carve out just the slightest hint of independence – away from the Ironwoods and their fists of steel – and the spray kicking up from the unforgiving sea has become as familiar to him as any home could ever be. He is running, a constant push forward away from the demons of his past, from the memories of death and despair.
Fate and magic bring the two together. With the surprise arrival of the beautiful teenage girl onto his ship, Nicholas has reason to worry. Where did she come from? Passages long since forgotten? How does she not know who she is? And what is his role to play in her life? Her mission is unbearably unclear, but Nicholas knows that she doesn’t stand a chance unless he takes her into his protection and teaches her the way of spiriting through era and space, one step at a time.
Etta must find what the Ironwoods are looking for before they do; to save herself and her mother, she must do the impossible. Searching for an object of which she knows nothing but its sheer importance – it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. But it’s worse, because the object in question could be hidden in any time period from ancient BC to modern-day living. She is a traveler, like her infamous mother before her, and she has to use the clues left behind to piece together a strategic route that will lead her and Nicholas to absolute freedom. And in the process, she will give up more than she ever dreamed of giving – she will lose her heart.
Passenger is the first in a duo of books set in the world of young adult fantasy, by author Alexandra Bracken. The author is perhaps best known for her series The Darkest Minds, set to be produced as a film by Fox and the most recent humorous thriller, The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding. Bracken also contributed to the Star Wars YA trilogy with the first book in the series, A New Hope: The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy.
A clever voice in the sometimes monotonous world of young adult fiction, Bracken never fails to bring something fresh to the table. While time travel is a subject not so unique, her take on the phenomenon is sharp and realistic (well, as realistic as it can be, right?). I am such a fan of flawed characters and difficult relationships when it comes to the complexities of young adult romance in novels. Etta is indeed a prodigy, but she’s a bit reluctant when it comes to her own abilities. She has a quiet confidence, but she’s easily shaken. She has a strength about her but she understands that she must rely upon others to reach her objectives. Nicholas . . . well, he’s amazing. Dreamy and brave, he is the quintessential hero. And what a gentleman! The touches on his race and their interracial relationship was relevant to modern-day issues and was well-placed in the different eras the story took place in.
I recommend Passenger to readers ages 12+ and I don’t mind saying that at 36, I loved the book. Wayfarer is the sequel, and it is on my TBR list for this year. I’ve read reviews that say most people wished the story had been built into a trilogy, but I will reserve my judgement on that until after I’ve read Wayfarer. If you get a chance to read Alexandra Bracken – do it. You will not be disappointed, and neither will your young adult.