Bracken, Alexandra. Passenger. New York: Hyperion, 2016.
Passenger is an action-packed, romantic adventure that spans the topics of time travel, racial and gender equality, and the evolution of societal norms. Etta Spencer, a violin prodigy about to perform in present day New York, learns she can time travel when she is abducted to a ship sailing the Atlantic in 1776. Her abductor Sophia Ironwood, who was born in 1910, provides the foundation for a conversation of evolving gender roles in American society. Furthermore, Nicholas Carter, an African-American sailor, whose proper time period belongs to the 18th century, becomes Etta's partner and love interest, which provides a dialogue on the evolution of racial equality and interracial relationships. The oscillating time periods and the differing eras in which the characters were born allow the reader to acknowledge how far societal norms have matured, and yet how much further we have to go.
Bracken has struck a perfect balance of addressing societal concerns with the entertainment value of an action-adventure tale. She sets up the perfect rivalry between time-traveling families (Etta's vs. Sophia's), in which Etta's family has hidden an important astrolabe, which will allow the owner to control time. The Ironwoods, who basically rule the time-traveling world, have kidnapped Etta with the intention of her finding and providing them with the astrolabe. If she does not, they will kill her mother, who hid the astrolabe in the first place. Thus, Etta embarks on a journey through time and space, deciphering clues left by her mother and dodging the attacks of rebel time-travel groups; mystery, violence and intrigue permeate the novel.
Though I would not classify Passenger as a romance novel, it still provides an obvious romantic element. The relationship between Etta and Nicholas is clearly strained by their differing races and the contrasting societal values that belong to their respective time periods; however, this strain allows the reader to reflect on the nature of love and the various degrees in which outside factors can effect a relationship. Early in the novel, Nicholas's friend mentions the evident attraction between Nicholas and Etta, and when Nicholas dismisses the notion that they could ever be a couple, his friend reminds him of his mentor, who "said he'd never remarry [after the passing of his wife], because he'd never find another lady that fit so neatly at his side. He called her his equal in spirit" (157). Bracken pursues the concept that lovers should be equals through Etta's persistence that she and Nicholas be partners. This idea, too, relates to changing gender roles, and a contemporary woman's refusal to be subservient to a man. Equality: partners in love is the new ideal.
"I cannot help but think, it matters not who you love, but only the quality of such a love. And so what I wish to say to you is... a flower is no less beautiful because it does not bloom in the expected form. Because it lasts an hour, and not days" (409).
I love the romantic notion of this quotation, but I haven't yet decided if I agree with it. It's true that love can come in unexpected forms; experiencing pure love, whether its ephemeral or lasting in the scope of time, is enlightening, but is it worth the pain of eventually losing it? The metaphor of the flower perfectly captures the essence of love in the scope of time and urges the reader to evaluate his or her own concepts of love.
Overall, this novel will have wide appeal with young adult readers; the historical fiction element is balanced enough with action and adventure that it won't turn off potential readers; instead, it may give them some historical background knowledge without them realizing it. Passenger is never boring, and the ending leaves you ready and awaiting the next installment. Check it out!