Allison's Book Bag

Bending Time by Charles and Elisheba Johnson

Posted on: December 14, 2013

Bending Time is part of a unique new series called The Adventures of Emery Jones Boy Science Wonder, which promotes both diversity and science. The first title contains outrageous adventures and lots of laughs, sure to appeal to its target audience of elementary-age children. It reminded me somewhat of the Danny Dunn series, which my husband loved growing up. Bending Time also deals with the timely topic of bullying. I enjoyed it least as a social issue story and most as entertaining science fiction.

Bending Time is unique in several ways.  According to its blurb, it’s “one of the few books for third through fifth graders in which the main characters are Black American”. The book promotes diversity in other ways too. Its main character, Emery Jones, is gifted, while the narrator, Gabby, is hearing-impaired. What I most appreciate is that diversity is not promoted as an issue but is presented indirectly through well-rounded and quirky characters. Yes, Emery stands out because of his crazy gadgets, but has an easy-going dad who likes to make people laugh and a mom who is so proper that she never lets food fall from her fork. Yes, Gwen stands out because she uses a hearing aid and uses sign language, but she also rarely talks and manages to often land herself in trouble by involving herself in Emery’s experiments. While there are some novels out there about the struggles of the gifted, most of them carry a far more serious tone, which makes Bending Time a fresh entry. I also don’t recall the last time I’ve read a book featuring a young person with hearing difficulties, which makes for another commendable feature.

Diversity isn’t the only way that the Bending Time is unique. Emery’s particular strength is science. He likes to tinker with objects, taking them apart and putting them back together. Moreover, he enjoys reading about math and physics. Oh, and Emery talks a lot about dinosaurs and time travel. For teachers, this means the book meets Common Core Standards and Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) requirements. For the intended audience of elementary students, it means awesome adventures. Emery brings a time machine to school, which accidentally sends a classmate back in time. He then has to travel back in time himself to rescue the boy. It also means moral issues. The classmate who travels back in time is a bully, meaning Emery might be better off leaving him there — but is that the right decision for Emery to make? There aren’t a whole lot of books for young people which feature any topics remotely related to science. Although the Johnsons’ drew on the time travel theory described in the  memoir Time Traveler by astrophysicist Ronald L. Mallett, and believe the theory as plausible as string theory, many adults (including myself) will regard time travel as fantasy. Yet time travel is probably among the scientific concepts that would most appeal to young people, which makes it a good choice for the first title in the Boy Science Wonder series. Perhaps in future titles the Johnsons will also explore more conventional principles.

My main issue with Bending Time is one of personal preference. I’ve read a lot of books about young people who are academically different, either because they land noticeably above or below the norm. For me, too many of these books then turn this difference into a fantastical gift, which ignores the real struggles caused by being different. Moreover, issues like bullying are handled in a way that fail to offer realistic solutions, and so serve purely as escapist literature. While I commend Bending Time for allowing Emery to be a normal kid who also happen to be gifted, I fault it for its handling of the bullying issue, which is that Emery sends the bully back in time. While this makes for great fun, I wish Emery could have found a more realistic solution. Even if I were to accept that time travel is plausible, I challenge you to find a young person who could viably use it to handle a bully. Yes, I’m aware that at this point I sound like an adult. But I also remember being thirteen and looking for solutions to my troubles in books — and being disappointed when I didn’t find them. For a long time I stopped reading and instead turned to television, which more honestly addressed my needs. And so, while I might still be speaking for myself, I’m also trying to consider what young people want from their fiction. I’m concerned about the ones who are looking not just for entertainment but also for answers.

This said, please don’t let me discourage you from reading Emery Jones. There’s a place for lighter fiction in all of our lives. Based on the first title, The Adventures of Emery Jones Boy Science Wonder will be a fun series, which should also have the positive long-lasting effects of promoting diversity and science. My one criticism aside, we need more books like Bending Time.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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