December 12, 2011

Once Every Never

by Lesley Livingston
Puffin Canada
302 pp.
Ages 12+

Lesley Livingston, author of the Canadian Library Association's Young Adult Book of the Year Wondrous Strange (HarperCollins Canada, 2008), continues to provide young adult readers with riveting fantasy based in the supernatural with just a shimmering of romance and an ample seasoning of humour in her newest, Once Every Never (Puffin Canada, 2011).

Torontonian Clare (Clarinet) Reid is sent to England to stay with her Aunt Maggie, a professor of archaeology, while her parents are away on their orchestra's world tour.  Luckily her best friend, Allie (Alice) McAllister, also 17, has managed to arrange a stay in London with relatives including her former-geek-turned-hottie cousin, Milo, an Oxford student working with the British map-making agency.

Although Clare considers her supervision under her aunt mundane, Allie, an archaeology buff, is thrilled to get an opportunity to examine a new exhibit of bog people (perfectly preserved corpses found in a peat bog) and a variety of antiquities such as a shield, torcs (neck rings), and helmets set for restoration.  While her Aunt Maggie consults with the curator, Dr. Ceciley Jenkins, Clare unpardonably touches the shield and discovers herself in another time and place, witnessing a meeting of two men, one in possession of the shield.

Returning to the museum, Clare enlists Allie's help to witness her disappearance after touching the Snettisham Great Torc (a particularly unique torc).  This time Clare returns with an account of the handsome young man seen earlier interacting with a raging, red-haired woman who'd been whipped and to whom he gives the torc.   Hidden behind a rock, Clare is not seen by anyone until a young woman chances to touch her, thereby making her visible.  After asking for Clare's help and surreptitiously slipping a brooch to her, the young woman is grabbed by a Roman soldier.

Based on Clare's observations and what she hears (and understands, although in a unknown language), the girls' internet research reveals the injured woman to be Boudicca, the Queen of Britain in 1 AD, who rebels against the Romans, and the young woman who asks for Clare's help is Comorra, one of Boudicca's two daughters.

When the Snettisham Torc is stolen from the museum, Aunt Maggie suspects a former colleague, now presumed dead.  Unfortunately, she is correct and this same man, Stuart Morholt, who claims to be a Celtic mystic, learns of Clare's gift of shimmering (that's what they call her time-travel) and uses threats to coerce her into locating a buried cache from Bouticca's time.

The plot is complex but not confounding, all the more substantial for the different times into which Clare shimmers, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, always revealing.  Livingston excels at bringing two very different worlds into contact, without either losing integrity.  In each, the voices, hearts and actions of the times' characters successfully immerse the reader in that time.  Even poor Clare, who must modify her behaviour to meld with those in the past, is true to herself, showing less cockiness  when dealing with the Celts and Druids, although her erratic train of thoughts still compel her to misspeak occasionally.

But, it is the humour that continues to pull me along for the journey, particularly Clare's attitude that comes across as self-deprecation with snarkiness.   When returning from the time when Connal's blue body paint (in preparation for his sacrifice) smeared onto her, Clare declares that, "I was partying with Smurfs.  I wanted to fit in." Teens will also appreciate the hint of romance in Once Every Never, particularly as Clare is attracted to two different young men, one in the present, one in the past, confusing her even more.  Expertly, Livingston epitomizes the teenage mind, sharing Clare's thoughts, both erratic and sure, as she tries to figure things out, whether it be history or people and their motivations.

Just added: video of Lesley Livingston talking about Once Every Never

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