Friday, October 16, 2015

Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2002

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In the year 2000 Melly and Anny Beth had reached the peak of old age and were ready to die. But when offered the chance to be young again by participating in a top-secret experiment called Project Turnabout, they agreed. Miraculously, the experiment worked -- Melly and Anny Beth were actually growing younger every year. But when they learned that the final treatment would be deadly, they ran for their lives.
Now it is 2085. Melly and Anny Beth are teenagers. They have no idea what will happen when they hit age zero, but they do know they will soon be too young to take care of themselves. They need to find someone to help them before time runs out, once and for all....

(240 pages)

I'm named after my great-grandmother, who was born in 1900. I'm actually named after two of my great-grandmothers (Marie, my middle name, was my dad's grandmother's name), but it's the woman whose first name I share that really captures my fascination. She grew up in a completely different time, on a farm in rural Missouri. She lived a fascinating life full of ups and downs, and died an old woman living on the same farm she'd spent her entire adult life working.

In some ways, Melly is just like my great-grandmother: she grew up in a rural village in the twentieth century, and she was one hundred and one in 2000 so she must have born around the same time as my great-grandmother. The big different between the two women, however, is that my great-grandmother died long before 2015; Melly, on the other hand,  made it much farther than that. She made it much farther than even my grandparents are going to get: to the year 2085. Rereading Turnabout for the first time in a few years, just as I'm becoming interested in researching my family history, I can't help but obsess over how awesome it would be if I could meet my great-grandmother. Meeting her when she'd unaged so far that she was biologically my own age? Even cooler. Just think of all the stories she could tell, all of the precious anecdotes and family stories. She could help me decipher my sometimes-confusing family tree, putting stories to all of the different faces. She could humanize the past with her own personal experience.

Sitting here typing this, I'm thinking that would be pretty cool for me. But would my great-grandmother have wanted to participate in Project Turnabout? I have no way of knowing - it wouldn't be as simple a choice as you'd think. Getting to live for twice your allotted time is great, but what sort of life would you have? You'd either be an anomaly to the world, living your life under a scientific microscope, or you'd spend your whole life running away from anyone and anything that could make you lose your secret. This second choice is the one that Melly and her friend Anny Beth make: to run, to hide, and to lie. They've spent the last eighty-five years completely on their own, with only the agency that initiated Project Turnabout to help them, and they haven't seen hide nor hair of their descendants in all that time because they're afraid it would be too hard to resist telling them who they really were.

I am a huge fan of Haddix's, and it's books like Turnabout that are perfect examples of why I love her writing so much. She takes an amazing story idea ( here it's an unaging scenario with so much potential), adds compelling characters with complex backstories and convincing motives, and sprinkles in some profound thoughts for the reader to chew on (in this case it's aging and death, and what exactly the consequence of avoiding them would be). She often also includes a really interesting setting (here it's her early-2000s view of what the world will be like in the future - including a scary-good prediction of voice recognition software), as the icing in the proverbial cake. So do I recommend Turnabout? That's a silly question, of course I do. The only real question is one that's been haunting me since I first read it years ago: could Project Turnabout ever happen in real life? And if it did, would I want to participate in it?

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