Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015 Contenders: Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

Margaret O'Malley's father, a corporate whistleblower, has been sentenced to death, wrongfully convicted of arson and murder. The trial judge, Lucas Biggs, is not only known for his harshness, but is also in the hip pocket of the Victory Corporation -- the very same company that Mr. O'Malley had taken on. Although the conviction and sentence are obviously travesties of justice, it appears that there is no way for Mr. O'Malley to escape.

However, Margaret has a secret weapon. Young people in her family, for uncounted generations, have had the ability to travel through time. They are strictly prohibited from using this ability, but with her father's life at stake, that prohibition begins to mean less to Margaret. But even if she manages to enter the past, there's still one problem: "history resists." Margaret may want to change the past, but the past may not want to be changed.

This is the setup for a lovely book, full of memorable characters and evocative prose. The promotional materials describe Saving Lucas Biggs as "When You Reach Me meets Savvy"; I also noted echoes of A Wrinkle in Time and The Water Castle. Those are some big literary shoes, and Saving Lucas Biggs tries its very hardest to fill them.

It doesn't entirely make it, I don't think -- the plot, especially in the last quarter, when some last-minute interventions make the structure come slightly loose, doesn't have the Swiss-watch precision of When You Reach Me; the climactic moments don't possess the pure force of those in A Wrinkle in Time; and the idea of a young girl with a special and unusual gift isn't as revelatory here as it was in Savvy. However, those are some of the most seminal books of American children's literature, and not quite matching them hardly makes a book a failure. Indeed, I think Saving Lucas Biggs is noticeably superior to The Water Castle, particularly in the way it ties the events of the two time periods together, and readers of this blog may remember that I liked TWC a lot. 

Marisa de los Santos has written several adult bestsellers, and David Teague wrote Franklin's Big Dreams, a picture book that got a starred review from Booklist back in 2010. This, however, represents both authors' first foray into middle-grade literature. Saving Lucas Biggs is a remarkably assured and tonally consistent novel, one I would probably have attributed to authors with more middle-grade experience than that.

In a year that features an overwhelming favorite (Brown Girl Dreaming) and several strong dark horses (Caminar, The Family Romanov, The Night Gardener, and Revolution, at the very least), the field may simply be too crowded for the Newbery committee to find room for Saving Lucas Biggs. I don't think I'd put it in my top three or four -- the competition is simply too fierce -- but it's definitely a book I'm glad to have read.

Published in May by HarperCollins


  1. This review made me and my co-author inexpressibly happy. I'd rather win a Newbery than any other award in the whole world, if only for the honor of having my name on the same list as Elizabeth Enright's. Thank you!