Review: "Reversing Time" by Charlotte Mendel - One Boy's Quest to Change History by Joseph Szostak

(Guernica Editions, $25)

Charlotte Mendel’s new young adult novel, Reversing Time, One Boy’s Quest to Change History, is a genre bending adventure tale. It effortlessly weaves together elements of science fiction, mystery, family drama, a coming of age saga. It could also serve as a field guide for climate action.

Simon Sendel is a 15 year old boy living in a dysfunctional suburban home. His mother, once loving, energetic and a fiery environmentalist, is now a listless, nearly catatonic woman who spends her days in bed. Fortunately, Simon’s father, who works for BigOilGamby, is the best dad in the world. A loving and energetic dynamo, he holds the family together. But as in any good mystery, nothing is quite as it seems.

The novel opens with Simon planning his escape. Every day after school a pack of bullies lie in wait. He has to outpace and outsmart them to get home unharmed. But at home, things aren’t much better. His mother is such an embarrassment that he won’t even bring Sandra, his one and only friend from school, to visit.

One day the bullies get the upper hand and to escape, Simon runs into his fathers workshop and hides in a dumbwaiter. The dumbwaiter falls into a basement that is not supposed exist. In the basement he finds a trunk and in the trunk a locket, a talisman, that once belonged to his mother. This discovery sets off a series of events that uproot Simon’s life and that of his family, and initiates his transformation from a scared little kid, whose most pressing concern is avoiding the bullies at school, into fearless crusader for a new future.

One of the pleasures of REVERSING TIME is its skillful weaving together of seemingly disparate genres. We all love heroes, and often, it is only under the most difficult circumstances that heroes emerge. Simon’s unlikely journey from wimp to hero is a fine adventure story, and a hero’s quest. His struggle to uncover and understand his parent’s secrets, and his parents own struggle with conflicting values, is a gripping family drama. The elements of time travel and a secret utopian society make for imaginative fantasy and science fiction. The real world threat of the climate change makes this a story of political and social change.

And finally, the efforts Simon stumble towards to address the climate crisis makes this a fine handbook for social change. What makes the book work on so many different levels, I think, is its overriding message of hope.

The essence of hope, it is said, is the conviction that we can make a difference. A theme of Mendel’s novel is that young people can make a difference, and indeed, that each and every person can make a difference. Rather than despair, guilt or blame, Simon comes to see that it is only by winning hearts and minds of ordinary people that the course of history—and the future to which it leads— can be changed. Perhaps we can ignite a light at the end of the tunnel.

Joe Szostak is a journalist and photographer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His blog, Mt Shasta, California’s Holy Mountain is available at