© Jane Louise Curry.
This 2005 novel by Curry is one of many she has written involving time travel in one way or another. Here an American boy with highly talented musician parents (and grandparents) has been dragged along to London, where his mother will be performing and his dad will be taking him touring around the city for the summer. Twelve-year-old James is biracial, and is having a hard time finding his place in the world and his own family. For one thing, he doesn’t want to be a musician, something none of them understand! For another, he feels neglected by everyone, and retreats inside an emotionless shell whenever possible, avoiding contact with others his own age, lost in a private world made easier by his unusual life situation.
James didn’t really want to come to London, and spending so much time with his dad is not only unusual for him, it’s frustrating for both of them. When James discovers an unexplained portal to the past in the basement of the flat they’re staying in, it seems like the perfect way to escape. And it brings him to London in the year 1600, where the boy is soon swept up into an elite group, the Children of the Chapel Royal because, he finds, his own singing voice is a valuable asset. Once in this choir and acting troupe, James has little time to himself, and on the rare occasions when he can get back through the time portal, it always brings him to the wrong time, before his family had even arrived at the flat! His only recourse is to return to the choir and wait for another chance. There, he’s being groomed for a solo performance before the Queen (Elizabeth I), while trying to stay out of trouble with his choir mates and masters. An intrigue involving treason threatens to draw him in, while at the same time he’s finding his own voice and path into music, something he never knew how much he wanted.
There are plenty of ways to approach time travel in fiction, from the science fiction approach: trying to explain it all, to the fantasy one: it’s magic. This book wisely makes no explanation of the time portal at all, just establishes a few rules about it, and then goes on with the story. James’ adventures in the past come to life brilliantly in Curry’s prose, obviously well-researched, and his many dilemmas are just as real. I love time travel stories, and this is the best one I’ve read in a while. Highly recommended.