There is a girl, who finds herself on an empty plain just as the rain starts. She doesn’t remember how she got there, or even who she is. Seeking shelter from the rain, she finds a hotel run by a fox and a rat. There’s something mysterious about the hotel: there are no other guests, although there is the strange music that seems to be coming from an upper floor. At first, the animals seem suspicious and unwelcoming, but the girl begins to win them over, and slowly life begins to return to the hotel.
There is another girl, in another place, trying to deal with grief and guilt. She has suffered a terrible loss, and done something she regrets. She figures that the best way to deal with the pain is to forget. But although the girl tries to forget, her story gradually emerges through a series of flashbacks.
Are these two girls the same? We don’t know; neither one even has a name at first. But as the stories progress, a pattern emerges and the the two stories begin to draw together.
Departure Time is a compelling and moving middle-grade novel. The mystery draws in the reader right from the start. Who is the first girl, and what’s going on in the hotel? What is the second girl trying to forget? At first there is virtually no information for the reader to go by, but as the story progresses a picture begins to emerge, and the astute reader will begin to get a sense of what’s going on.
The mystery draws you in, but it’s the characters and the emotion that hold you. The grief and loss and regret are palpable, even when you don’t yet understand what they represent. But above all, this is a story about love and healing.
Strong readers who can piece together a story with little background information will do best with this book. It would also be a good book to read aloud with a class, with opportunities for discussion.
Departure Time is a 2010 Cybils nominee for Middle-Grade Fiction. (I nominated it).
FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The Amazon.com links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.