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Backtracked Hardcover – March 10, 2009
The Amazon Book Review
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Fifteen-year-old Tommy Latrella is about to board his beloved New York City subway system as he runs away from home to escape the shadow of his older brother, a fireman who perished in the attacks of 9/11. But when a prank goes horribly wrong, the subway jettisons him back to 1918, where Italian immigrants take him in and fix him up with a backbreaking job building subway tunnels. Tommy faces success and tragedy, and then is thrown by a subway crash into 1932, where Depression-era struggles compel him to work for the Mafia as a money collector. It takes a third round of time travel, this one to the middle of World War II, for Tommy to realize that he won’t get to return home until he starts making up for his past mistakes. It’s a dizzying premise that sometimes strains credibility, but de Alcantara’s obvious love for New York is infectious, especially for history buffs, and his ability to fashion gritty realism within a fantastical plot sets this thriller apart. Grades 8-11. --Daniel Kraus
About the Author
Pedro de Alcantara is a Brazilian musician who lives in Paris and travels the world teaching the Alexander Technique, a method that improves habits of movement and thought in everyday activities. His first novel for young readers, Befiddled, is available from Yearling.
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Students of karma, transformation... in short, of life, will applaud this book's injection of big and strange ideas into the milieu of teen literature, and readers of teen literature will appreciate that too. As other commentators have already said, the term teen literature doesn't actually cover it; this story is somehow much bigger. But younger readers seem clearly to be the initial target, and the author is known in the genre.
At the end of the book Latrella's story (like all stories) seems to be not quite over, or rather, "a completion is a beginning;" let's see. Are we being asked to search for the Latrella in ourselves? The personal possibilities of this book are endless. There is definitely a movie in here, and ambitious directors would have a field day: here we have vignettes of distinct époques strung together, whereas one might also see each period as one in the same event, through varying sets of filters.
The honest treatment of sensitive subjects -- 9-11, father-son relationship, and the grim reality behind early 20th century life in the USA -- is to be commended. 9-11 in particular is dealt with from two very different and valid points of view, and the transformation of Latrella is clearly in one sense a linking of these two seemingly contradictory positions, contempt and admiration, into one.
The existence of worm-holes, time portals and other such "vortices of a strange nature" is slightly glossed over, but this isn't science fiction, and we can forgive the author who, for the narrative's sake, clearly doesn't want to get bogged down in quantum physics; then again, an alternative would have been to not mention any mechanism at all, leaving it as an exercise for the reader. This, along with the unusual approach to 5 card draw, is my only reservation.
The progression of Latrella is clearly marked; there is coherent structure to his journey. His introspections are useful; the potential for confusion when traversing 9 decades is considerable, to say the least.
After reading this book, you still won't know what Ivan Osokin ended up doing, and neither will you know exactly what you'll be doing in a year's time, but in the strange brew that is the flowing, tumbling and growing world, you'll have one more angle from which to see part of "the big picture" and that's got to be a step in the right direction, whatever your final destination.
File this one under: to be continued.