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Book Review

This historical, time-travel novel by Laurel Snyder is published by Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Annie Jaffin and her mother, Ruby, arrive in Baltimore at a once elegant, but now dilapidated, hotel owned by Annie's grandmother Mary. Annie's mother has never told her much about her family. She's never even met her grandmother, and she only gets Christmas cards from her aunts. Her father abandoned his family when she was very young.

Now Annie's grandmother is on her deathbed, and her mother has driven from their home in Atlanta to say goodbye. Annie finally does meet her grandmother, and she finds her to be a bitter, angry woman. Because the hour is late, Annie decides to go to sleep in her hotel room on the seventh floor while her mother goes for a walk. Annie finds a worn copy of The Secret Garden in her bed along with an old sleep mask. She pulls the mask over her face, hears a loud clap of thunder and everything goes dark.

She wakens to find a girl named Molly in her bed. Annie has somehow time-traveled from 1987 back to 1937. Molly reveals that her real name is Mary, and Annie realizes that this girl is really her grandmother. She learns that Molly has been locked in what she calls The Lonely Room for more than a year because she has asthma, and her parents try to protect her by keeping her inside all the time. Molly's mother and sisters have left the city for the summer and her father is busy, so Molly has little contact with anyone except the maid, Nora, and her doctor. She is very lonely.

Annie and Molly share much in common. They resemble each other, and both have asthma. They like the same colors, books and activities. Annie sees a window in the bathroom that leads to a fire escape, and the girls decide to sneak out that route to have adventures each day. On their first escape to the outside, they go to a dime store where Molly tries on roller skates and ends up crashing into a display of glass lampshades, breaking them all. The store clerk yells for the police, and the girls flee the scene. Molly realizes that they owe the store for damages and the stolen skates. Annie assures her that they'll make payment later. On the way back to their hotel home, they find a kitten. They take the kitten back to Molly's bedroom.

The next day Annie and Molly explore the luxurious hotel, navigating through the system of laundry chutes and dumbwaiters so no one will see them. When they finally arrive back in Molly's bedroom, they find Nora waiting for them. Nora understands Molly's loneliness, so she allows Annie and the kitten to stay and doesn't inform Molly's father.

Annie keeps trying to get back to her mother in 1987. She tries falling asleep again with the sleep mask, but it doesn't work, and she wakes the next day to someone banging on the door. She hides under the bed with the kitten while Molly's doctor, father and Nora come in to see her. The time Molly's father spends with her is brief, and he leaves almost immediately. Then the doctor examines her and departs, leaving Molly, Annie and Nora in the room.

The girls have breakfast before heading out for another adventure. Earlier, they had seen a poster promoting a fair at Fell's Point. The poster advertised a fortune-teller, and they think he can help Annie get back home. Along the way, Annie notices the disparity between the hotel and the area they're entering, and she realizes that Molly lives in an all-white, wealthy area. At the fair, they treat themselves to junk food and find Fortunata in the fortune-teller's tent.

The girls spend time talking with Fortunata about magic, and he sells Molly a bottle of blue dust to cure her of her asthma. But that night, Annie convinces Molly that she is not any sicker than she herself is and that she doesn't need any medicine or blue dust. The girls get hungry and decide to sneak down to the hotel kitchen and find snacks. Molly decides to cross the lobby to find a key to her room so that she won't have to sneak in and out. But her father unexpectedly shows up and scolds her for being out of her room.

The next day Molly disobeys and leaves her room to go downstairs where she, using a stern voice like her father, confronts him about her loneliness and his lack of love for her. He is shocked to hear that she thinks he doesn't love her. He thought providing for all her material needs showed his love. Eventually, he says she can have a key to her room, and if she promises to stop sneaking out through windows, she can come down for meals and into the yard each day.

Although life improves for Molly, Annie is still stuck in the past and missing her mother. The two take a taxi ride to the fair to talk with Fortunata again. He tells Annie that she is between futures, and that if she believes and cares hard enough, she can return to the future.

On their way home, the girls get soaked in a rainstorm before finding a cab to take them to the hotel. Annie's asthma gets the better of her. Molly tucks her in bed and leaves to find help. Annie focuses on life with her mother and wishes for her mom over and over. She gets out of bed and goes to the medicine chest and finds the blue dust from Fortunata. She empties the bottle onto herself, experiences a big pain in her chest and a clap of thunder from the storm. She awakens to find herself once again in 1987.

Annie learns that her grandmother has just died. She and her mother grieve together, and as Annie's mother begins to recall what a wonderful person her mother was, Annie remembers Molly as a young girl, who becomes her grandmother, a gray-haired lady with a warm laugh. Her memory of visiting the past and her friendship with the younger Molly vanishes.

Later, she finds a photo of herself and Molly from 1937, but she doesn't recognize herself. Her mother tells her that she was named after her grandmother's best friend, Annie, who her grandmother loved more than anyone else. As Annie and her mom leave the hotel, the outside is no longer run down. It is still the elegant hotel it once was.

Christian Beliefs

The girls listen to a brief clip of a radio sermon — a voice shouting about the throne of the Almighty and "God the Fatherrrrrrr." Molly points to a church where she attends sometimes. Two elderly ladies in the neighborhood have two statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary in their yard. Molly wants to switch the statues so the ladies think a miracle has happened.

Other Belief Systems

Annie thinks she's traveled back in time by some sort of magic. Molly thinks she's caused Annie's travel back in time because she's been wishing on stars every night. Molly keeps a quarter in her pocket as a lucky piece. Annie says the kitten they found is lucky. When she doesn't return to 1987 as she thought she would, she wonders if she's missing a talisman or some other sort of magic to get her back. Fortunata, a fortune-teller, tells the girls that magic is "when the universe corrects itself." He says sometimes people call the correction a miracle, but he calls it magic. He adds that if they wish hard enough for something and have faith, the universe will set things right.

Authority Roles

Annie's mother, Ruby Jaffin, is a single parent who keeps Annie away from all of her family without explanation. She seems to relate to Annie as more of a friend than a parent. Annie stresses to Molly that her mother isn't perfect either, citing the time her mother forgot to pick her up from ballet and she had to walk home two miles in the dark. Once, her mother also forgot her birthday.

Molly's father is out of touch with his daughter's needs. She describes him as a workaholic — stern and cold. He says he doesn't have time for personal issues. He tells Molly that she is like her mother, full of unnecessary emotions. He erroneously thinks providing material things for her demonstrates his love. He tells her how he grew up sharing two rooms with the 10 people in his family. He shared one bed with three brothers. Eventually he softens a bit and decides not to lock Molly in her room. He does love her.

Nora is a servant at the hotel. She oversees Molly and is the main human contact Molly has. At first Nora is emotionally distant and tries to be a disciplinarian, but eventually she softens, letting Molly know that she does care for her. She recognizes Molly's loneliness. When Annie arrives on the scene, Nora is lenient and permits the girls to sneak out without informing Molly's father or knowing where they are going.

Profanity/Violence

Annie tells about a time when she punched a boy in the gut because he had tickled her, something she doesn't like. A phrase included is, "I'll show you where you can stick your scrub brush!" Annie sings a rhyming handclap song for some immigrant girls. Though not specifically written, each verse finishes with a coarse word: "There was a piece of glass. . . . Miss Lucy sat upon it and cut her big fat . . ." The girls listening to the handclap song complete the verse with the obvious word.

There is one use of the word god with a small g. Annie says that all parents suck sometimes, and Molly says her father sucks. Annie says he is a jerk and a dumb grown-up. She defends her mother by saying that she is not a screw-up.

In the author's endnotes, there is a mention of people jumping from windows during the Great Depression.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

There is one mention in the handclap song of Miss Lucy and her boyfriend kissing.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at ThrivingFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: The girls sneak out a window and climb down the fire escape. They sometimes visit the unsafe parts of Baltimore. They also lie to each other a couple of times. Molly lies when she accuses the maid of forgetting to lock her door and uses her anger to manipulate people.

Drugs and Tobacco: Molly drinks a glass of medicine water each night that makes her sleep. Wedding guests at the hotel smoke cigars and cigarettes. Two male servants talk about going for a smoke. At the fair, there are beer halls, cigars and cigarettes

Literary mentions: an unnamed Michael Jackson song plays on the car radio, The Secret Garden, The Cuckoo Clock, East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, Roller Skates, "They Can't Take That Away from Me" by George and Ira Gershwin, Look magazine, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, "Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."


This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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