Monday, February 1, 2016

The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn, 1996

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It looked like an ordinary root cellar. And if twelve-year-old Rose hadn't been so unhappy in her new home, where she'd been sent to live with unknown relatives, she probably would never have fled down the stairs to the root cellar in the first place. And if she hadn't, she never would have climbed up into another century, the world of the 1860s, and the chaos of Civil War.
(256 pages)

I feel like I would have liked this one a lot better if I'd read it for the first time when I was younger.

It's not so much that it's geared for younger kids (in fact, it's kind of too gruesome for little children), but that the plot feels sort of . . . wobbly. On one hand it's a really cool concept, and it imparts a lot of history without being too painful, but on the other it relies on unrealistic characters and events to carry it on its way.

Rose is the worst offender when it comes to being an unrealistic character. She is, to put it in a single word, unpredictable. And not in the cool, the-author-did-this-on-purpose sort of way. No, she just up and completely changes halfway through the book for no reason other than "she went back in time, so she suddenly went from being an inhibited, emotionally-constrained doll-like girl to a headstrong, determined firecracker with a strong mind of her own." It's not that I dislike either side of her character, but I just don't like the way she so radically changes with no real impetus.

The other main thing I found confusing about the book was that it was set in Canada . . . but was about the American Civil War. And by the end, when I'd figured everything out, it was a really cool angle - I'd never known that Canadians came to fight in the war! - but it took me way too long to figure out the basic facts: that Rose is American, and that she's living with her relatives in Canada near the American-Canadian border. For a while, I honestly thought that Rose was Canadian and her relatives were the Americans. I think part of that confusion comes from the fact that Lunn grew up in America, but moved to Canada at eighteen and lived the rest of her life there: there's no real sense of an American identity for Rose to contrast against that of her relatives from Canada, because the author was a member of both countries and didn't herself differentiate between the two. That must be it, because that's the only reason I can think of for the rather muddled distinction between the two nationalities.

I did enjoy the book, though - it was a good feel-good read (except for the gruesome battle descriptions, of course). I can't see myself going out of my way to recommend it in the future, but I'm sure there are some readers out there who would be perfect for this odd little time-travel novel. When I meet one I will happily hand over my copy of the book, and probably forget entirely about it the next day.

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