The International Writers Magazine: Childrens Fiction
A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler
Orion’s Childrens Books Pub: 7th April 2011
Jan Carr review
Autumn is Jenni’s best friend. Her family have a timeshare in the same place as Jenni’s and they meet there every year, same week. The story takes places over three time share holiday weeks, but for Jenni, thanks to a time travelling lift, it takes just three increasingly horrid days.
On the first day Jenni is excited to see her best friend Autumn and takes the old lift up one floor to see her when they arrive. Autumn isn’t in her usual timeshare apartment and the woman in there says she’s never heard of her. When Jenni finally finds Autumn in a different apartment, she discovers she missed a horse riding trip a whole year before which causes Autumn’s little brother, Mikey to take her place and so be thrown from his horse and into a permanent coma.
Autumn, is much changed, dull and listless, their friendship already ruined by the horse riding accident. Jenni is blamed for not turning up the year before. It doesn’t get much better a year later either. According to which floor she chooses, Jennie discovers that she can leap forward to see the consequences, for her own and Autumn’s family, of the terrible accident. Each floor is another year ahead and Jenni can only see the future getting worse for both their families. The accident affects Autumn’s family very badly, her father turns to drink. Jenni’s parents end up fighting so much there is a divorce.
Why can’t she go back and fix all this? If you can go forward, why can’t she go back to the moment before the beginning? She finds her way back to the moment she left, armed with the knowledge that Mikey will fall. Jenni tries to stop the riding lesson but fate conspires against her and Mikey still gets up on the horse. She has to do something or their lives will be ruined forever.
Liz Kessler who earlier wrote Emily Windsnap and Philippa Fisher series plays upon a morbid curiosity to look into the future, the benefits of hindsight and the desire to replay – ‘if only I could do that differently all over again’. From that point of view, the book is a gripping and satisfying read. Well written, it slips along. The paragraphs of scene setting and backstory at the beginning are a hurdle but the quality of the writing overcomes this. The mystery of the lift is an unexplained plot device; its incredibility doesn’t really matter but it would have been good to actually feel the experience of travelling through time. However the story is more about the girls changing relationship than action adventure.
I wanted to read on to find out how and if Jenni was going to solve her problem but it was more from curiosity than caring what happened to the characters. I didn’t see enough of Mikey to be anxious about his survival and Autumn while attractive, had no emotional hook for me to care about her plight. We get to know Jenni well and feel for her situation, but it all has an air of middle class stiff upper lip rather than the raw emotion that leaves the reader with no chance of escape until the book is finished.
© Jan Carr March 2011
Jan Carr MA is a teacher and has completed her first novel for children and is seeking an agent