Frozen In Time by Ali Sparkes

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Frozen In Time by Ali Sparkes

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Two children from 2009 encounter two from 1956, and uncover a mystery the four need to combine to solve. The mystery, the interaction of teen life generations apart – every element is a writer on top form. The first must-buy of 2009.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: January 2009
Publisher: OUP
ISBN: 978-0192727558

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Blue Peter Book of the Year 2010

It was the day the television exploded.

And, seeing that this is an Ali Sparkes adventure book, that is about the most likely thing that happens. Our first pair of lead characters are siblings Ben and Rachel, who are bored, stuck indoors, and hence very upset about the TV. They live in a large house in the middle of nowhere, their parents are working away from home, the garden has turned to jungle, it's the rainiest school holiday on record, and their guardian uncle is trying to engage with the spirit of Professor Branestawm.

However when the sun does come out, the pair unearth an unexpected, buried nuclear attack-proof shelter, and exploring that manage to defrost another pair of siblings, who have been trapped frozen inside since 1956.

These, Freddy and Polly, think it's still 1956, and expect that their own scientist father has suffered another hiccup with his secret experiments, carried out at the height of assumed reds-under-the-bed peril. This is not exactly the full truth, but it's better than what the world thinks happened – the newspapers once they vanished suggested the father murdered them and fled.

The unravelling of what really went on is the grist of this superlative adventure story, and I can't say more. I could easily review this book from the other regard, anyway, for it serves as two stories in one – with the other exceptional side to the narrative being the life of the revived teens.

Freddy and Polly are brilliant creations, and among the first things to be addressed is their manners of speech – which would herald a lesser author getting on a PC hobbyhorse. They have to have the usual introduction to tabloid newspapers, microwave ovens and everything else, but the differences between times then and times now are done better and subtler than ever before. And of all the possible pop songs for them to be struck by over the last ten years, Sparkes hits what must be the absolute ideal.

'Why do they want us to keep shaking our ass? I hate cruelty to animals.' The truth was even more shocking to poor Polly.

Just when this delight of humour is finishing resonating, the most awful crunch of a mid-book cliffhanger hits us.

Throughout, the book has had a fine sense of being a must-read. Every chapter, with no contrivance, ends with a brilliant urge for just one more, and it was quite daft of me to plan to stop half-way through. It storms along in a breathless, ever-intriguing rush, and I know now what they mean by a plot that is toe-curlingly good – it's drifts into other people's lives now and again only teasing us with what might be the truth.

The level of trust we share with the author in this read is to the fore, for we just cannot predict to what conclusion she will carry her characters. There is no time in this headlong blast of narrative for second-guessing her (well, alright, Bess is a bit predictable once introduced), and I didn't feel the need to try and usurp Sparkes' cleverness. It's so pleasurable to see where she takes us and her four children.

It might at first look not have the most plausible plot (Sparkes is no cryogenics expert – but then, who here is?), and might at times marry some things we have met before in our reading, but never quite like this. It serves as the first brilliantly inventive and rollicking fantastical adventure for the 8+ audience for 2009, and I'm only thankful for the privilege of reading it in 2008.

Oxford Children's Books seem to have done Frozen in Time a disservice in letting it squeak out in January 2009, when everyone's Christmas money has already been spent. I think this should roar out to acclaim from everywhere.

For another look back to the fifties you might enjoy Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.

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Buy Frozen In Time by Ali Sparkes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Frozen In Time by Ali Sparkes at


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