Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Running Out of Time and Falling Out of Time

Haddix is a local author, so I have everything she has written. Running Out of Time was her first book, and when my daughter was in 6th grade about ten years after this was published, her teacher used it as a class novel. There weren't enough copies, so I personally ordered ten from PermaBound because it seemed to be a popular choice with the students. I think they are still in the book room! Falling Out of Time has just come out, so I thought I should revisit the first book before continuing with the sequel!

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Running Out of Time
Published 1995 by Simon & Schuster
School Library Copy

Jessie lives in the small, early 1800s village of Clifton, Indiana with her family. Her father is the town blacksmith, her mother is a midwife, and she and her siblings attend a one room school house. When her mother is called out about sick children, the news isn't good; there's a disease making the rounds that is very serious. The town doctor used to come and hand out pills that had more effect than her mother's cures, but he no longer does this. When Jessie's sister also falls ill, her mother tells her the truth: it's not really the 1800s, but rather 1996, and their village is actually a recreation so that they can live a simpler life, but tourists can observe them when they are in public spaces. Her mother wants her to go for help, because the old fashioned clothes might alert the security forces who don't want people leaving Clifton. The mother has jeans, a t shirt, and a windbreaker, but can't fit into them. She instructs Jessie about the modern world, gives her a phone number to call, and sends her out of Clifton. After spending a little bit of time going around the tourist attractions, Jessie escapes in a bread truck and tries to find a phone. She eventually gets ahold of the person her mother wants her to contact, but he isn't who he says he is, and means Jessie harm. She escapes, and manages to call a press conference and invite the press. They don't believe her at first, but then Jessie collapses, burning with fever. She, too, has diptheria, and is unconscious for days. During that time, authorities enter Clifton, take over the town, and put the children into foster care until the parents can be evaluated for competency. Having saved the day and learned secrets about Clifton, will Jessie be able to embrace the modern world?
Strengths: Haddix always comes up with the most interesting and innovative plots, and as someone who owns her own prairie dress and believes she could churn butter and make linsey woolsey dresses by hand, I found the idea of Clifton fascinating. Jessie's mother had good reasons for living in Clifton, but also is unwilling to sacrifice children to continue this lifestyle, and I love that she was prepared enough to keep clothing, even if she and several other women couldn't fit into it! Jessie's reactions to the modern world are great, and I especially like the fact that she was appalled by the perceived rudeness of the other children. Her escape skills are strong, and the press conference was fun. I haven't yet read the sequel, but I am definitely curious about what Falling Out of Time will bring!
Weaknesses: The most exciting part of the book seems to happen when Jessie is unconscious, and the reasons the outbreak is allowed to continue seem weak. I wish that Jessie's attempt to alert people had gone more smoothly (she could have had several women that she met help her) so that we would have learned more about how the people in Clifton were evacuated. 
What I really think: This circulated really well until about 2012, but hasn't gone out much recently. Perhaps the phone booth on the cover doesn't make sense anymore? This was still a good read, but I almost want to see it reworked for an entirely new generation. 28 years is forever in the world of children's literature. Styles change. We'll see if the new book perks up circulation of this one. (That's the new cover above.)

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Falling Out of Time 
May 30, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It can be very difficult to review a Haddix book, because there are so many surprises that I don't want to ruin. The School for Whatnots was a good example of this! This unexpected quality was what my daughter (who was a picky reader) liked best. I can't say much more than the book description describes without giving things away, so bear with me!

Zola and her mother live in Indiana in 2193. Everything is virtual, and there's not really a reason to leave the house. Clothes appear in the Insta-Closet, food in the Insta-Oven, and even when Zola walks to an actual school building, she joins a virtual class with students from all over the world. Most days, the Sirilex system (an ever present computer that answers all of her questions) tells her that the weather is not quite right, and she gets on the treadmill to get her exercise. Because of the virtual reality, she can walk anywhere in the world. Her mother is an artist, and is very supportive of Zola, who also has a mood gauge built into her room. When Zola finds a piece of paper that asks for help, she is confused. Paper is rare, and who would need help? Everything is perfect in 2193, and there is no pollution, and no one ever gets hurt. When her mother pulls her into the Insta-Closet (which blocks the Sirilex system from seeing or hearing anything), Zola learns some hard truths about when and where she is really living. Like one of her relatives, Jessie Keyser, she must escape her comfortable world in order to save those around her. 
Strengths: I love the note that Haddix wrote about being asked to write a sequel, and it wasn't until she made comments that Jessie would now be the age of current students' mothers that she found a way to write one. The brilliance in this is really the way that Jessie's original story is reimagined, and key elements, like the phone booth, are properly dissected in order to make sense to modern young readers. Haddix can write a great Dystopian story (look no further than The Shadow Children!), and she gets a chance at a Eutopia as well. The details of futuristic technology, and especially Zola's dependence on it, are perfect. The ties with Clifton Village make perfect sense and bring the story full circle. 
Weaknesses: The Insta-Closet didn't make as much sense as I wanted it to, although its existence was crucial to the plot. Recycling clothing after every wear instead of washing it? Since a lot of my clothes are over twenty years old, this was just a hard concept for me to swallow! 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I do wish that there were a hardcover version being rereleased. My two copies have seen better days. 

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