Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

By: Alexandra Bracken
Genre: YA Fantasy
Copyright: January 5, 2016 
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
POV: Third-person alternating
passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever
Main Character: Etta Spencer - Seventeen-year-old violin virtuoso whose biggest concern is that she has stage fright. She is pulled into the world of the travelers when she is taken from a violin performance at the Met. She is a bit meek, but not weak (if that makes sense). She's not crazy outspoken or a fighter, but she can fight when the going gets rough. She legit tries to harpoon the pirates on her ship when she first wakes up (that's pretty hardcore). She also thinks through her actions, which I will always always always appreciate in a YA heroine. I think that the heroines who act first and think second aren't doing anyone favors.

Nicholas Carter - The illegitimate son of the Ironwood clan. He is pretty swoon-worthy since he's a hardened sailor who is like a legit pirate since he takes over merchant ships and claims them as prizes. I mean, come on, pirates are pretty sexy. And he's a traveler, so he's got the know-how that Etta needs since she has no idea about her heritage.
He is a black man in 1776 and experiences all of the societal issues that comes with at the time. He is a very interesting character because he gives a view into how history frames how we experience the world. It's always interesting to see how the world has shaped itself and manifests past beliefs, concerns, prejudices. Nicholas is a resilient character because he's come from nothing and still has the ability to dream. That's the thing I like the best about him even as he continues to belittle himself in his head (I really can't blame him for this since I could never fathom what he's probably lived through). I do wish he'd see what has come about in future time-periods (since he's a traveller) and allowed himself to dream even bigger and better, but maybe his basic ability to dream is already based on his traveling experience.

Allies and Enemies: Sophia Ironwood - She is an interesting character. She's kind of a B, but she also has her reasons (bad childhood, orphan, etc). Even though she's aligned with the evil Ironwoods, they are also the only family she's ever known. And her self-worth is wrapped up in what her family thinks of her. It's a hard and sad existence.

Cyrus Ironwood - He is an a**. Done. That is all. He just takes over the other families cause he wants power. He dangerously holds all of history in the palm of his hand. He's such a megalomaniac. I do not think any one man should have as much power as he seeks out. Of course, that's also what makes a good villain. So, I guess he's a good character (even though I hate him!)

Alice - Etta's violin teacher and kind of an adopted grandmother. She is Etta's family and Etta will do anything to protect her family (which is why I like her).

Rose Spencer - Etta's mother. She's a bit detached, but she also super loves Etta... Yea, it's a bit confusing to me too. I mean, obviously she has a very interesting life that we know about immediately (She ran away from a foster family and traveled the word and now she's an artist), but I don't know why that has to translate to her being distant from her daughter (but that's just me).

Setting: Everywhere! And Every time!

Diversity: Nicholas is our diversity rep in this book. And his character is way better for it. I suppose the story would have still been a story without his diversity, but it would have been like only 20% as interesting to me. Nicholas is such an interesting viewpoint into the world of old. I really do adore him. And, it's interesting, because I am often more of a fan of seamless diversity that doesn't always require a soap-box, but Nicholas needs that platform in this book. It's really kind of necessary for a book that takes place in so many historical time points where civil rights are so differing (or nonexistent). And it never felt overly preachy to me (which is the main reason I hate the issue-driven diverse characters that are only there to show the issues). Nicholas as a character works really well for me, because he's a fully fleshed out character where his race is only a part of how he interacts with the world and the story.

Also, Etta's observations and reactions to Nicholas's experiences was an interesting viewpoint to explore. I feel like Alexandra Bracken almost did a better job on this POV (and perhaps because it came from personal experience):
"You idiot, Etta told herself. What a privilege it was to never feel like you had to take stock of your surroundings, or gauge everyone's reactions to the color of your skin. Of course he felt uncomfortable. Of Course. And if he'd never been to this time before, he wouldn't be able to predict people's reactions." -- Alexandra Bracken, Passenger

Random Thoughts: 
Let me just get this out upfront, time travel stories are an enigma to me. Not in the sense that I don't understand them, I generally do. And some of them come up with concepts that I find intriguing (e.g. Time Cop and how two versions of the same person can't touch each other) and gratuitous (e.g. naked time travel in Terminator. I was way too young when I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's naked butt). However, I am going to try to push all of that aside and just be fair in my review of this book as a sci-fi YA novel.

The time-travel itself was quickly explained: There are people in the world that (through genetics) have the ability to travel through time. The way they do this is through passages that were created by their ancestors a long time ago. A time traveler can never exist in the same time as they've been before (so they keep journals to know where and when they've traveled so they don't repeat). And a passage will always go to the same year and whatever month/day you travel is the same (so if I travel through a passage from 2015 to 1776 and I leave on January 27th, 2015, then I will get there on January 27th, 1776). Okay, got it? Too bad, we're moving on! Also, none of that has anything to do with my review...

I liked the book in general. There were definitely some slow parts. And I kind of loved Alex Bracken's ensemble cast in the Darkest Mind series, so I missed that dynamic in this book, since it's mostly just Nicholas and Etta against the world(s). However, I liked them both equally as Main Characters. So, the loss of ensemble cast didn't break the book for me.

I liked how both Etta and Nicholas viewed the world and the times they traveled through. I thought that they were both strong characters who made their own opinions about the world. Each character is actually really strong in that sense (Sophia, Cyrus, Hasan, Rose, Alice). And Etta gets to see how each of those characters interact with their time and lives in a way that gives great observations about what it means to live:
Alice interrupted. "No tears, no secrets. I want the life I'm meant to have, Etta. It's as simple as that. My father always says that the way to truly live is to do so without expectation or fear hanging over you, affecting your choices..."-- Alexandra Bracken, Passenger
"...Abbi described to me what it was to travel, to see the fabric of life spread out before him. he said it was 'possibility.' It is said that there is time enough for every purpose, and so you must continue to believe that there is a time for you." -- Alexandra Bracken, Passenger
I don't love books where a special child is kept away from her heritage and destiny because her mother is a fugitive. However, I don't hate them either. I just wonder why a mother/father can't just tell their child that this is the case and prepare them for that life? I much rather the stories where the parent tells their kid everything from a young age and the kid always thought their parent was crazy-town, but they loved them anyway. Then they realize their parent was always right! And that world is real! And their minds are blown. Also, in those cases the kids are way more prepared for the trials and tribulations coming their way. And wouldn't a parent want their kid to be as prepared as possible if they knew they'd have to fight, say, a crazy megalomaniac that can travel through time?! To be fair, a (kind of) explanation is given in this book, but I'm still not 100% on board with that decision-making.

Something this book did make me realize about myself (as a reader): It really bothers me when characters go a really long time without taking a bath/shower. There were a few times where I hoped they'd jump into a river or a fountain or rent a hotel room and just take a shower. It didn't happen for a really long time (around page 380) and it made me antsy. I acknowledge that I'm a weirdo...

The book was a great start to a duology (I love the new duology trend going on right now in YA). And it creates good side characters that I hope get more fleshing out in the second novel. I really enjoy Alexandra Bracken's writing style. And I always feel like her characters are complex and interesting. This book, while full of adventure and complexity in its worlds, is really about the characters. So, I am a big fan of the book since I am a big fan of the characters.


  1. I definitely want to check this one out!! Great review!
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

  2. Baths, showers, that time of the month. I imagine a lot of book characters must smell awful, but I guess we're supposed to overlook that for the story. I have a hard time doing that, though!

    1. It was a big discovery about myself (that I care so much about the cleanliness of the characters). And it didn't help that there was a scene where they're pretty much in a jungle swamp and then don't take a shower for forever afterwards. I could just imagine the caked on mud and grossness. Shudder.