By Liz Kessler
Published by Orion
ISBN 978 1 84255 586 6
Most readers would imagine a mixture of chick-lit and science fiction to be a combination that could very well go off the rails and end up appealing to fans of neither genre. Some things are just not meant to go together.
Liz Kessler knows her readership thanks to her young-females-only series of "Emily Windsnap" and "Philippa Fisher" books, and she is making a courageous move by adding a science-fiction twist to her latest youth chick-lit novel.
Even the title A Year Without Autumn has a ring of unreal sentimentality about it when you realise Autumn is a person not a season. But Kessler is a clever writer and wins over doubting readers quickly with this gripping tale of family, friendship and time travel.
Jenni, an ordinary 12-year-old, has a confident, attractive, wildly interesting best friend called Autumn. The two girls are very different but utterly inseparable. Jenni believes she's the luckiest person in the world to have a friend like Autumn.
So far Kessler is going over ground that young teenage girls will have read often. But the wily author has a trick up her sleeve, one that lifts A Year Without Autumn out of the predictable and mundane.
And Kessler brings in her clever twist just at the right time. Jenni and her bff can't do without each other for a moment: they have even managed to persuade their families to spend their annual holidays together in a vacation apartment complex in the countryside.
Then one day Jenni gets into the lift to go up to Autumn's apartment. Instead, to her gradual amazement she is shot forward a whole year in time. When Jenni gets out of the lift events have moved 12 months forward, but Jenni herself has stayed in real time.
Here's where A Year Without Autumn gets into its stride and Liz Kessler starts to write a story that grips you right until the final page.
A year has passed by and Jenni has not been there. Everything around her has changed. Autumn, once bright and full of energy, has become uninteresting and lifeless. Her family seems to have disintegrated. Jenni is trapped in a strange world where she recognises the places, but the people have changed completely. Something has damaged the happy people she once knew.
Jenni knows that no one will believe what has happened to her. She decides to take a very bold step. Somehow she has to get back into the present and avert the tragedy that has happened in the intervening 12 months. To do this, Jenni has to muster up courage she didn't know she had.
After a slow and predictable opening, but the book's unexpected turn makes for a great story.
A Year Without Autumn is sentimental in places, yes, but it is still a good read that branches out into themes you wouldn't expect to visit when you first begin. It's a delightful, exciting and sensitive novel that young teenage girls will thoroughly enjoy.