16 in No Time
Brent J. Rowley
D. Michael Martindale
Golden Wings , 2001. Trade paperback:
Suggested retail price: $14.95 (US)
Love/Hating a Book
A "love-hate" relationship is a bizarre thing. To have such strong, butconflicting feelings for someone or something has to be one of the moreprovocative experiences of the human condition. Not to the degree ofintensity as the words suggest, but "love-hate" is what I feel whenreading a BJ Rowley book. Perhaps I should call it "like-dislike."
I like his books because Rowley tells an interesting story, no bonesabout it. He knows how to come up with a topic that has a powerful hookin it. He knows how to take that idea and squeeze fascinatingconsequences from it and explore them. A boy finds out he can haveout-of-body experiences at will. Two girls wish they can age four daysin four minutes, and their wish comes true. Who wouldn't be intrigued?
I dislike his books because I don't like the way he tells his stories -- Idon't like how he writes. His plotting can be clunky as he forces eventsto go the direction he wants them to go. His characterization doesn'trise much above the stereotypical thing one would expect. And thatdialog! The dialog can roam from decent to acceptable to downrightembarrassing at times. Put simply, Rowley writes at a juvenile level.
But I suppose that's a good thing, since his books are aimed at thejuvenile audience. Teenagers are his market, and he writes for them.
Nonetheless, as I start reading them, fighting through the writing thatbothers me, the story catches me and I end up reading on because I wantto know what happens next. Rowley may not be the greatest writer thatever lived, but somewhere in there he knows how to tell a story.
That's exactly what happened with 16 in No Time. The first handfulof chapters were a minor challenge to wade through. But once that hookis set, you might as well sit back and let yourself get reeled in.
Celinda and Mandy are two girls who are days away from being sixteen.Unfortunately, their school prom is even fewer days away. AlthoughMormonism is not explicitly mentioned anywhere, one gets the impressionthat these are two Mormon girls who are being tormented by thatcharacteristically Mormon family rule: no dating until sixteen. Mandymisses the deadline by a few days, and Celinda by one. Both sets ofparents are sticklers on the issue and refuse to bend the rule even aday's worth.
This is an especially tragic disaster because Celinda has been asked bythe most popular boy in school. She finally gets a foothold into the bigleagues, and she has to turn him down thanks to a childish rule herparents are enforcing. It's guaranteed to be the downfall of her socialcareer.
But a strange boy sits next to her in school and gives her a book. It'sa manual on how to make wishes really work. Celinda thinks the wholeidea is foolish, of course, but then comes the moment of desperationwhere she has to try it anyway. She corrals her friend Mandy, andtogether they make a wish that they can age four days all at once, sothey can be old enough to go to the prom.
The "powers that be" take their wish literally, and the next day the twogirls suddenly find themselves living at a rate that will cause fourdays of their lives to play out in four minutes. Everything around themis frozen still. A pitched baseball hangs in midair. Living humanstatues pose in all sorts of bizarre stances. The girls can come and gowithout being noticed or heard. They can snatch things away withoutanyone the wiser. They can nudge a speeding automobile and force it toswerve entirely off course.
Rowley explores the consequences of this situation in innovative ways.Since the girls are moving at such incredible speeds compared toeveryone else, their slightest touch can wreak havoc on objects andinjure or kill living beings. If they open a refrigerator door, it willrip off at the hinge and catapult across the room -- at super-slow motionto them. If they walk up some stairs, they leave footprints on the orderof a jackhammer.
Trying to live and eat and sleep for four days under such circumstancesbecomes a great challenge to them. But to keep things hopping, Rowleyalso has them discover some terrible things in the process of happening.A disturbed boy is planting a bomb under the school bleachers. Celinda'sfather is consummating a half-million dollar deal with some gentlemenwhom she discovers are swindling him. And her younger brother is ridingon a bus into which a speeding vehicle is about to collide, probablykilling him.
Because Rowley is wise enough to make up rules for this "warp time"existence (as the girls call it) and stick to them, Celinda and Mandycan't just tweak this and nudge that and make everything better. Theyhave to think through things and figure out how to save the day withoutcausing a great deal of damage themselves in the process.
And there's always that prom looming on the horizon. The two girls areaging four days in four minutes and will turn sixteen in time to go. Buthow in the world can they expect their parents to believe any of it?
I may grouse all day about how I didn't like this phrasing of words orthat twist of plot or the other line of dialog, but the bottom line is,I wanted to keep reading to see what happened. It would have been niceif the writing could have lived up to the storytelling, but then I'm notthe target audience. Who cares what a crotchety middle-aged man thinksof a young adult book? After all, I wasn't keen on Harry Potter either,but I doubt the author or publisher are losing sleep over that.
© 2002 D. Michael Martindale