R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
R.J. Anderson

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BOOK REVIEW: "The Young City" by James Bow (Dundurn Press, 2009)

In the course of writing his Unwritten Books trilogy james_bow made a daring choice: in The Unwritten Girl (which I reviewed here) he introduced us to the tween-aged Rosemary Watson and Peter McAllister, and sent them on an adventure suitable for readers of the same age; then in Fathom Five (reviewed here) he aged them to the mid-teens and delved deeper into both their budding romance and their inner lives in a story for YA readers; and now, with The Young City, we see Rosemary and Peter as young adults just heading off to university, with higher stakes and a more intense (and challenging) relationship than ever before. Here's the synopsis, from James's website:

Rosemary Watson and Peter McAllister think their future is clear: they’re finally heading off for university. They’re thinking about finding apartments, picking courses, living like adults.

But what happens when the future becomes the past? While helping Rosemary’s brother move into an apartment in Toronto, Peter and Rosemary fall into an underground river and are swept back in time, to Toronto in 1884. It’s a struggle to survive and adapt to the alien culture of the late nineteenth century. Peter and Rosemary are forced to work together, to live together, and to become the adults they’ve only been pretending to be.

As the days stranded turn to weeks, then months, Rosemary and Peter begin to wonder if they’re really ready for a future together - and what they will do if they can’t get back.

Then someone brings them a watch, powered by a battery, made in Taiwan.

All I have to say about that last line is ROCK ON. What a great plot twist! And when I attended James's reading/launch for The Young City back in January, I snapped up a copy of the book without hesitation, wanting to know how the whole idea would play out.

I'm happy to say that it does so quite well, with plenty of action and suspense, matched nicely with some good character development for Rosemary and Peter and also with a fascinating picture of a historical period and location that many readers might not be familiar with. Toronto in 1884 is a very different place in some ways from London or San Francisco in the same time period, and James reflects this well in his story, which has the atmosphere of careful historical research but doesn't get bogged down in tedious details. There's a B-plot about the struggles of the first women doctors in Canada that adds a nice extra layer to the book as well.

Rosemary is a singularly assertive and dynamic young heroine, much more so in many ways than Peter, who is more or less her mild-mannered sidekick. It's a refreshing inversion, especially coming from a male author, but there are times in this book, as in the others, that I found myself wishing for Peter to show a little more gumption -- not that he doesn't try, but I think overall he's just not as fully realized a character as Rosemary is. Still, it's a small complaint about a well-written, engaging and pleasantly unpredictable series. Recommended.

* Some of the romantic aspects of The Young City might be a little intense for younger readers, so I'd say the publisher's recommendation of 12+ for this book is a fair one, as opposed to The Unwritten Girl which would be easily suited for 8+ or Fathom Five which is more of a 10+ book.
Tags: books, reviews, young city
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