When every YA author is talking about the same book on Twitter, it’s hard not to want to read it immediately. So when all my favorites started tweeting about Passenger, I was thrilled, and immediately put the book on hold at the library. And then I read the Goodreads summary that involved these words: time travel.
This is a safe place, right? Because I need to share something with you: sometimes (always) I use the calculator on my phone to check my first-grade level math. Because I’m really, extraordinarily, embarrassingly bad at math. There’s a reason I went straight to social sciences in college and never looked back.
But somehow, I’m actually surprisingly good at astronomy. Even though it’s basically complicated math (and my professors have been extremely amused by my ability to somehow calculate the right answer using all the wrong equations), I’m really nerdy about astronomy. And this obsession with space and time has robbed me of all sense of fun when it comes to time travel. You want to talk about time travel? Okay, let’s talk about time dilation and the theory of special relativity. I’m not interested in pseudo-magical, physics-defying time travel.
So when I read those words on Goodreads, I was like nope nope nope and closed the window. And promptly forgot that I had already ordered the book. When I turned up at the library to pick up The Winner’s Kiss, Passenger was waiting for me too.
I was smitten. You guys, there is a serious dearth of attractive book covers in the world of Young Adult. A book cover like Passenger is as rare as it is beautiful.
So I decided to give the book a chance. Because it’s pretty. And I am nothing if not superficial. And so I plunged into Passenger amid profound book withdrawal from The Winner’s Kiss. Which, honestly, should’ve been enough to make me hate any book, no matter how amazing.
But…you guys, I liked Passenger. A lot.
Do you want to hear something crazy? I didn’t love Passenger in spite of the time travel. I loved it because of the time travel.
Quick, someone talk about the gravitational redshift of supermassive black holes with me, because I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO I AM ANYMORE.
I am so infatuated with the way Alex Bracken used time travel in Passenger. I was bouncing with excitement the whole time, wondering where the main characters, Etta and Nicholas, would take me next. Bhutan? World War II London? It was like being put on an airplane blindfolded. I loved it. Plus, this book truly takes you everywhere, exposing you to cultures and histories far from the Western world, which always gets a huge thumbs up from me. I’m excited to see where we get to go in the sequel, Wayfarer!
I also really appreciated that Bracken didn’t overly romanticize earlier eras, and that she tackled crucial – but difficult – issues. The male protagonist is African American (which is a giant YAY for diversity), and Bracken invites ignore slavery, segregation, and discrimination to the valuable discussion at the heart of her book.
Somehow, this book explained its world to me, even with its time travel intricacies, without making me feel as if I was being lectured on world-building. I barely noticed any informative sections, since they were carefully interspersed with the rest of the book so as not to bore the reader. The writing and plot were also impressive, but cumbersome at times. The book was slooooow in the beginning. It felt heavy. A reviewer on Goodreads described it as “hard work,” and I have to agree – at least for the first hundred pages or so.
Another minor complaint I had was the way the romance was developed – towards the end of the book, I thought to myself, “wait, why are they in love?” and I couldn’t come up with the answer. Why were they both attracted to each other? It wasn’t clear in the book, it just happened. Also (and this is serious nit-picking, so feel free to just skip this paragraph entirely), there was this thing that happens in YA sometimes where one of the secondary characters told Nicholas that Etta was going to be the love of his life (or something along those lines). Which like… does this happen in real life? Ever? I’d like to take a poll on exactly how many times this has happened to anyone, because it’s a trope that seems to show up in YA a lot. That being said, I still found myself extremely invested in Nicholas and Etta’s relationship, and I want so badly for it to work out in Wayfarer.
Overall, Passenger is a beautifully crafted novel, but don’t mistake it for an easy read. It demands careful attention, but it’s definitely worth it!
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken