This is an imaginative adventure story, with a diverse cast of rich characters and an unusual plot.
The story centres around a young girl who was born on 29th February in a leap year – a Leapling – who is also gifted with an ability to leap through time. In this story, Elle undertakes her first such leap, where she visits the HQ of the Time Squad – a group of ‘Leaplings’ who use their gift to travel through time and stop criminals warping the world with their crimes. But it soon becomes clear that not all is as it should be and Elle finds herself at the centre of a major crime mystery that she must take a lead role in solving.
For me, the book’s greatest strength is the characters. The main character, Elle, is a 12-year-old girl from Nigeria being raised by her grandmother in a mostly immigrant community after her mother died, and her father went back to Nigeria for a new wife. Elle also faces several struggles at school: she has a range of anxieties, obsessions, sensory sensitivities and food preferences; she is being bullied, and she is also just trying to master the art of leaping. Through Elle’s narration, Patience Agbabi brilliantly celebrates these differences, which present both difficulties as well as great gifts. Agbabi has created a true heroine in Elle who is determined, courageous and demonstrates almost unnerving self-knowledge and, eventually, belief.
Other characters – such as Big Ben and MC2 – are similarly original and interesting, capturing the reader’s imagination with their quirky traits and personalities.
As well as presenting a cast of neurodiverse characters, the book is full of original ideas, not least around time travel. There is also an environmental theme, with the future being meat and carbon-free. However, despite these strengths and some enjoyable moments in the story, overall, I found the book didn’t quite come together. The plot took a long time to get going. The inciting incident is near the start of the book but the real action doesn’t get going until three-quarters of the way through – in between there is a lot of build-up, and sometimes this can feel repetitive and even confusing. It has some brilliant moments of action, but they don’t always stitch together well. At times, I found it hard to follow, and the style veers more towards that of a screenplay. And I felt like the environmental link was a missed opportunity – although it is referenced, it is more of an add on than integral to the story.
For this reason, I would think carefully about how and why I would share this book with a class. It is rich in character study, and it has some fantastic opportunities to think about language (a couple of the characters speak in verse and Elle is obsessed with palindromes ). But it can be hard to follow, and this may put some readers off.
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