Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chronal Engine

I recently read Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith.

From the author's website:
"When Max, Emma, and Kyle are sent to live with their reclusive grandfather for the summer, they’re dismayed to learn he thinks there’s a time machine in the basement.

But when Grandpa Pierson predicts the exact time of his own heart attack, and when Emma is kidnapped by what can only be a time traveler, they realize he was telling the truth about the Chronal Engine. And if they want their sister back, they’ll have to do it themselves.
So Max and Kyle, together with their new friend Petra, pack up their grandpa’s VW and follow Emma and the kidnapper back in time, to Late Cretaceous Texas, where the sauropods and tyrannosaurs roam. Can the trio find Emma and survive the hazards of the Age of Dinosaurs, or are they, too, destined to become part of the fossil record?"

This novel has been on my to-read list for quite a while -- since the fall of 2009 to be exact, long before it had ever been contracted by a publisher. You see, the author happens to be married to Cynthia Leitich Smith and from July through December 2009, she was my Vermont College advisor. During that time, I completed the first draft of a middle grade thriller featuring rival paleontologists while Greg was working on Chronal Engine. Cynthia's letters to me often included recaps of their visits to natural history museums or links to dino resources.

I didn't meet Greg in person until this spring, at an SCBWI conference in Austin, just before the release of Chronal Engine. Our conversation went something like this: Time travel and dinosaurs? Sounds like Terra Nova (now cancelled Fox tv show).
Greg: No, it's Nothing Like Terra Nova.

He's absolutely right - Chronal Engine is so much better!

I was truly inspired by Greg's ability to make an adventure tale literary. His nods to Robinson Crusoe, HG Wells and Jules Verne raise this story from campy Land of the Lost to a new level of smart fun.

Also impressive is the way he handles the scientific explanation of time travel:
"Dr. Einstein's relativity implies space-time pinholes, requiring infinite gravity.
But this came to me during the game today: quantum tunneling of pseudogravity particles and modulation of resulting chronal wave with field-resonant material should make instantaneous temporal inversion of massive objects possible."
No, I have no idea what that paragraph means either, but that's it - he doesn't slog on for pages to explain this fictional science, he puts it out there and moves on. :-)
The "massive object" turns out to be a classic VW bug - how cool is that?!

Another huge plus is the author's use of an ensemble cast. Kyle and Emma are about to start their freshman year of high school and Max is in eighth grade. This mix of ages, combined with a healthy dose of full-page illustrations give the book an almost graphic novel feel. These elements combined with a quick pace should appeal to a wide range of readers - including the illusive reluctant boy reader.

Greg Leitich Smith is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown and Chronal Engine was edited by Daniel Nayeri of Clarion, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.