Paperquake by Kathryn Reiss
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 1, 1998
Series: Time Travel Mystery #4
Genres: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Mystery
Length: 264 pages Source: Scholastic Book Fair
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Violet's paralyzing fear of the San Francisco earthquakes changes when her family renovates an old building. An aftershock dislodges a letter addressed in 1906 to Baby V--and Violet is certain the disturbing letter is intended for her.
I loved this book when I was a kid. Like all books I purchased from the Scholastic Book Fair, it holds nostalgia to a time when days were easier and all I really had to worry about was what country I wanted to write an essay about (Honduras) or how to say french fries in Spanish (papas fritas).
Being a kid was fantastic, right?
So a little bit of my review here is biased, simply because I remember reading this book when I was in elementary school and thinking it was SO COOL. As an adult, it holds some problems. I’m at war with myself between “I loved this book when I was a kid” and “this sort of is ALL nonsense”.
Lets start with the voice. The voice was a conundrum. This book markets as YA, but the world has changed since 1998 when this was published. The writing style is simplistic and a bit dull. There’s nothing directly wrong with the way it is written… it just feels a bit more like MG. And that’s where the problem lies – the writing doesn’t feel mature enough for YA, but the story doesn’t feel juvenile enough for MG. It’s something that belongs in an in-between. It kept throwing me, which made it really hard for me to focus on the story.
The story also requires you to go in a bit blind and just agree with the author. Paperquake is the only one of the Time Travel Mysteries I’ve read, but I recently picked up Dreadful Sorry. Reiss’s concept of “time travel” is temporal, not physical. Violet has visions during earthquakes, visions that connect her to a girl from the early 1900s named Verity Stowe. I believe Reiss’s theory here is that the physical disturbance in the earth thins the veil, allowing the two girls to click. But they don’t click, not really. They don’t communicate directly and all the letter and diary-entry finding is very random. Violet’s assumes the letters are all about her because they’re about a girl whose name begins with a V who also had a heart condition. Even her friends and sisters find this to be a bit self-centered, and I’m inclined to agree. The plot moves entirely through happenstance. Violet doesn’t move anything along herself.
And I think that this is another reason I find it a bit… young. Most of Violet’s growth is about standing up to her sisters (they’re triplets) and getting a boyfriend. She’s supposed to draw strength from Laela’s diary entries, to see Verity and Laela as sort of a warning of what her life could be. From these things, and from her visions, she accepts that she isn’t an identical twin and that’s okay… and she asks for a different bedroom. OH. And she asks a boy to a dance. These just seem like such… middle school themes?
But on the other hand, the depth of the earthquakes and calling in a bomb threat to the Golden Gate Bridge? Heavier topics, maybe not great for MG readers. Honestly EVERYTHING within me screamed “no, no, no!” when she called in that bomb threat. And got away with it. And then the city calls her a hero for tricking them into shutting down the bridge. There should be SO MUCH MORE scolding and consequences for that decision. That, and stealing from a museum. And I guess this is also where the story is a bit dated – these days, the cameras in museums would have caught the girls in a breath. And there are no payphones to call in anonymous bomb threats. And, frankly, more people don’t wear hoodies and overalls. The outdated cultural references make this a little rough as well – the dangers of contemporary.
I dunno, y’all. The nostalgia has me wanting to say “but this was a great book!” but the facts are simply that this is a bit of an outdated story with flat characters, not enough research, and some solidly bad choices. I’d be disinclined to even recommend it to the proper age group, because I can’t condone the message of “if you do a bad thing, but the results are good, it’s okay!” that seems to surround the bomb threat phone call. Call me dramatic, but I am SO not on board with that.
Paperquake will be donated.
Ughhhh this kills me.
This book has been with me for about twenty years, and for a mass market paperback, it’s in awesome condition. Like… I haven’t even cracked the spine. But the reality of it is that all nostalgia aside… I don’t think I want to read this book again. And that’s hard because, as I’ve said, this book has been with me for such a long time. Five different moves. But books are heavy and we’re moving in the spring and nostalgia or not… I don’t need to be carrying around extra weight.
So, since it doesn’t make me happy and I don’t think I’ll read it again, it has to go.