Sunday, April 26, 2009

If You Loved Twilight...

Or, actually, if you didn’t like Twilight, as I’m guessing most of the Six Boxes readership didn’t. But if you read Twilight, there’s probably a good chance that you thought you might like it, so this recommendation is just as much for you as it is for people who loved Twilight and want more books like Twilight.

I didn’t know whether I would ever get around to reading Twilight, but I had a reading-material emergency on a trip last week. I was delighted to be able to pick up something I wanted to read that would fill most of the trip right off the shelf at the airport newsstand. It was, pretty much, exactly as I expected: at least somewhat engrossing, but poorly written. But as I thought of the people I know who have been reading the Twilight Saga who ordinarily wouldn’t read YA--old college friends, my sister-in-law, and so on--I wanted to shout “Why are you reading THIS, when I could easily recommend a dozen YA books that are so much better?”

But I know, truthfully, that Nation and Jellicoe Road and The Green Glass Sea are not for everyone. The situation calls for something else that is engrossing and romantic and easy. The book I’m about to recommend is ten times the book Twilight is, but won’t scare anyone off.

It’s Both Sides of Time by Caroline B. Cooney, published in 1995. Like Twilight, it’s the first of a four-book series.

Both Sides of Time is the story of Annie Lockwood, a dissatisfied, romantic seventeen-year-old with a hot but boring boyfriend. Then she goes back in time to 1895, where she meets Strat and is swept off her feet. Strat is handsome, rich, intelligent, gentlemanly, and completely besotted with Annie, to the horror of his family. But his sister and semi-girlfriend reluctantly take her in, there are murders, there are beautiful clothes, there are scenes where Strat and Annie lie in the sun, there’s a scary and exciting climax, there are laugh-out-loud moments--really, it doesn’t get much better. And just like Bella, Annie eventually has to make a choice that could cut her off from her friends and family and life as she knows it forever.

Both Sides of Time isn’t, I know, a Great book. The writing is excessively romantic (and this is going to sound worse than it is, because I’m taking it out of context): “What power did she have to make him shiver every time he looked at her, and never want to do another thing in his life except look at her?”. But it’s peopled with characters who are real and, with a few exceptions, round. The bad people are truly evil, but almost all of them have hidden depths, too. Cooney uses just a few words to convey the motivations and emotions of her villains, which adds a powerful note of poignancy. The supporting characters are funny and fascinating, from the teenage sister who is both envious of and shocked by Annie’s free and easy ways, to the fluttering stepmother, to the Irish maid, Bridget, who works eighteen-hour days for small reward. And best of all? Both Sides of Time caters to the crowd that wants to wallow in otherworldly romance while remaining, unequivocally, a feminist book.

Seriously. Cooney manages this without anachronism.

In short: both books have appealing heroines, devastatingly handsome heroes, family troubles, murder and mystery, an element of fantasy rooted in the real world, impossible romance. Both Sides of Time is better-written, funnier, doesn’t take 498 pages to say what it can say in 210, and will not curdle your soul.

But, Twilight lovers, don’t hold those things against it.


Elizabeth said...

Your description makes me want to read it, but the fact that it's by Caroline B. Cooney kind of... doesn't.

Wendy said...

What have you read by her in the past that makes you hesitate? I think I like it better than any of her other books that I've read, though Burning Up is good in a different way. It's better than the Janie books, or any of the cheap "thrillers".

Elizabeth said...

The Janie books are the only ones I've read, although I also recently read (and was horrified by) a recap of her terrorist book.