Series: The Girl from Everywhere #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on February 16, 2016
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer.
Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times - although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix's father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix's existence rather dangerously in question...
Nix has grown used to her father's obsession, but only because she's convinced it can't work. But then a map falls into her father's lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it's that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.
Well, this is frustrating. There are times when you read a book and you feel like it’s not the book, it’s you. This is one of those times. There is so much contained in this story that I should love. We have time travel, pirates, romance (well, ha, we’ll get to that shortly), and diversity! But The Girl from Everywhere was a book I struggled to connect with from the beginning, and unfortunately, failed to connect with overall.
The premise is very interesting. We have a girl born in Hawaii in 1868, but who has grown up on a tall ship literally throughout time and place on this Earth. Her father is from modern NYC, so Nix is equally at home on her smartphone in 2016 as she is traversing to 19th century India. Nix finds herself on this ship thanks to her father, the captain. Her mother having died in childbirth in 1868, Nix has been raised by her grieving father whose sole mission in life is to find a way back to before Nix’s mother died and to save her. If he does this, how will this affect Nix? Will she cease to exist? Change irrevocably?
Having been raised with this incredible burden, Nix is, understandably, world weary and guarded. This is a character who has internalized her mother’s death as entirely her fault. She blames her existence for her mother’s death and her father’s misery. This makes Nix susceptible to going along with whatever her father wants, even when what he wants is extremely misguided, improbable, and irrational. Much of your tolerance for this story will be built upon how much you can handle Nix continuing to self-flagellate over the non-sin of “causing” her mother’s death.
I did say that this is the sort of book where I don’t think the fault lies within the book, but within me, and that is true. The writing is evocative, clear, and capable. Throughout my reading I always truly felt that no matter the time and locale, Heilig has an undoubted gift for transporting the reader through her writing. Scents, sounds, tastes…so many senses come alive through her redolent writing. Whether we were in 19th century India, 21st century NYC, 19th century Hawaii, or 1st century China, there was clearly an impressive amount of detail put into researching and accurately portraying these times.
I admit that I struggled when it came to understanding exactly how this time travel worked. I will also say that I’m a person who doesn’t care about understanding the rules of time travel. I am perfectly willing to accept in any time travel story that it’s just part of the “magic.” I don’t need a scientifically plausible explanation. But still, I didn’t really understand this. Nix and Co. travel by map. They acquire a map, and it is important that it never have been used before, to a specific time and place in order to travel there. They magically direct their intentions to travel there?? It’s unclear exactly how it works. This is mostly because Nix’s father is keeping Navigation secret. That’s not what concerns me. What concerns me is that it’s fuzzy exactly how maps work. As Nix mentions, some of the maps they acquire are just wrong. They depict a time and/or place that is simply geographically wrong. Yet it seems like Nix and Co. can travel wherever a map exists. If a map exists of the place, then the place is real. But I never got a concrete sense for how true this really is.
The pacing was slow for me. I appreciate that there is time (well) spent on worldbuilding, but at about 40% I found myself asking, “But what has happened?” And the answer was, “Not very much at all.”
I found the worldbuilding to be captivating and enchanting. This goes hand in hand with the competency of the writing. Heilig really has a gift for using all senses to immerse you in her worlds. It’s also clear that she has done her research and has painstakingly, and very lovingly, recreated 19th century Hawaii. I wondered from the beginning which language Nix and her crew, from all different times and places in the world, speak. It appears to be English, though it’s unclear how these members came to be part of the crew (I assume they did not speak English when found in her 19th century African country. How did she join up with the captain?) That being said, the secondary cast of characters were delightful and added an element of interest to the story.
This brings me to the main characters. We have Nix, suffering since birth for a crime she did not commit, her father Slate, distant and irresponsible, and Kashmir, a crewmate, Nix’s friend, and longtime crush. I really enjoyed the complex father-daughter relationship between Nix and Slate. She so desires his approval, even for all of his fatal flaws, in a way that really speaks true for a 16 year old. Nix’s relationship with Kashmir I understood less, however. Kash is funny, charming, sly, capable, and caring. I couldn’t understand why he was so into Nix, who is a good person, but whose characterization was so overpowered by her angst over her father and her worry about her fate. Obviously, her fate is worrying, but it’s just not as compelling to read when the character is a worrier, not a do-er. More frustrating to me is that Nix is completely oblivious to Kash’s obvious feelings about her. This is natural for a 16 year old, and I understand it, but it’s still a frustrating reading experience. And then to make matters worse, there’s a love triangle. I could talk about the specifics of the triangle here, but I think that’s pointless. Either you have a tolerance for triangles, or you don’t, and I do not. It does not appear resolved by the end of the book, either.
One huge, huge plus for this book is that it is effortlessly diverse. All of the characters, except for Nix’s father and the other side of the love triangle, are POC. And one of the crewmembers is even a queer WOC (she is clearly my fav). This is exactly how YA should look, instead of being a rare cause for celebration.
The unclear plot, the unconvincing romance, and throwing in a triangle to boot made this one a story that just wasn’t for me. Overall, I couldn’t escape the feeling that my lack of connection had much more to do with me than the book itself. I would definitely recommend it to any who are intrigued by the premise (and those who can tolerate love triangles). The worldbuilding and the writing are so solid. Heilig is definitely an author to keep an eye on!
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.