Friday, December 26, 2008

Timely Travel: Quimbaya by Dianne C. Stewart

Cal Bradley is a regular sixth-grader, a middle school student focused on being MVP on the basketball team despite the pommeling of overbearing self-styled superstar Quintin Thorngrove and finding a subject for a creditable local history project in Ms. Burstin's class.

When his best friends, twins Liv and Anthony Jacobs, invite him along to help unpack furnishings for the historic Delaney House in its conversion to a residence for families with hospitalized children, Cal goes along, hoping that something in the old house will spark his interest in his project.

Sent upstairs to unpack a box in a small bedroom, Cal quickly sets out lamps, books and magazines, and a clock radio on the two nightstands.

Cal pressed the radio's ON buttons. "Oldies Ninety-Five-O-Threeeee!" bleated a trio of voices.

He looked out the windows, where the miniblinds were drawn up and tightly bound. Cal lowered the blinds and adjusted them to let in the afternoon sun.

He returned to the cardboard box. Now for the last item--a small wooden box--probably for jewelry.

It had brass hinges and a little hook in front securing two small doors. The lacquer had worn dull over time, but the box still had character.

Unlatching the hook, he opened the doors to reveal a set of tiny drawers. A yellowed piece of string stuck with dried-out mucilage to the inside over carved numerals--1000. He held it there and pulled the second drawer. This one had no string--only notches, marked one through nine. Who would have done such a thing, and why? he wondered. He pulled the second drawer almost all the way out and left it. Returning to the front window, he pushed aside a lacy white curtain and peered outside.

The two large windows in the front of the room were designed to provide access to a narrow balcony overlooking the street. Cal barely glanced beyond the balcony's delicate iron railing to the street scene below him, but it registered in the back of his mind that the view was very different from up here--more like he would have imagined it in the days when the house was young. It seemed greener, quieter--peaceful.

When Cal turns back to the room behind him, he finds it suddenly changed. A dusty oil lamp sits beside the carved box on a small round table beside the bed. Without thinking Cal pushes the small drawer closed, and as he turns again to the window, he realizes that the view beyond the miniblinds is filled with the hospital's high-rise parking garage and physicians' building. "Okay, that's not possible," he whispers.

When Cal confesses this confusing experience to Liv and Anthony, they slip back into the bedroom and discover that positioning the tiny drawers in the box enable them to time-gravel back to the early years of the historic house. Liv especially is intrigued, and pretending to find a period dress for the presentation of her local history project, she costumes herself and makes a solo visit back to 1897, meeting a fifteen-year old girl named Emily with whom she shares her story. The boys follow her in trips back into the turn of the century world of their town, cobbling together costumes to help them fit in with Emily's help. In one visit the two interrupt a violent sidewalk struggle between two bank officers just as a raging fire begins in the livery stable nearby. Without thinking, Cal and Anthony drag one injured man to safety and run for help from the fire station blocks away. The firemen arrive in time to prevent the fire's spread to the entire town, an outcome which changes the whole history of the city.

Back in their own time, the three learn their action has also altered the written history and modern landscape of their town. More frighteningly, they also find out that the other banker who had fled into the stable died in the fire--and since this man was Quentin's ancestor, Quentin himself no longer exists in their own time.

In her research Liv also learn that Emily will soon die in the collapse of a wall at her school, and the three agree that they must return to her time to warn her to stay away on that day, but when they do so, history is again altered, and the kids are compelled again to return to the past to save Emily from a railroad accident on her honeymoon and somehow right the wrong which has wiped out Quentin's existence.

Dianne Stewart's Quimbaya creates adventurous but believable young people whose forays into the past uncover the time-traveler' conundrum--how to right the wrongs of the past without adversely affecting the future. Stewart skillfully weaves multiple time frames into a credible plot, with hints to the source of the power residing in the little wooden box. This fast-moving fantasy will engage readers quickly and keep those pages turning all the way to the thought-provoking ending.



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