On Etruscan Time

On Etruscan Time

by Tracy Barrett, Barrett

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A shadow moved in the doorway of the building. It was a boy. As he hesitated, someone must have pushes him from behind. He stumbled down the short stairway and fell heavily to his knees.
He couldn't break his fall, Hector realized, because his arms were tied behind him.

A mysterious talisman transports a boy back to ancient Italy


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A shadow moved in the doorway of the building. It was a boy. As he hesitated, someone must have pushes him from behind. He stumbled down the short stairway and fell heavily to his knees.
He couldn't break his fall, Hector realized, because his arms were tied behind him.

A mysterious talisman transports a boy back to ancient Italy

No one ever listens to Hector. He wanted to hang out with his friends this summer, but instead he's stuck in Italy at an archaeological dig with his mom. The ancient Etruscan artifacts are interesting, but no one has time for him.

Then he makes a discovery of his own-a strange, unsettling stone that looks like an eye. The stone brings nightmares about Arath, an Etruscan boy who died thousands of years ago but now begs for Hector's help. Are these just dreams, or is Arath really in danger? As Hector unearths the truth, he realizes that he can make himself heard when it counts.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Fast-paced and suspenseful. The author imbues her fantasy with plausibility and peppers the text with fascinating shards of ancient history and archeology. A good read." -- Kirkus Reviews

Eleven-year-old Hector was anticipating spending summer at home with friends, but conflicting family schedules force him to grudgingly accompany his professor mother to an archeological dig in Italy. The site holds Etruscan artifacts, but too few finds for continued funding. Hector assists with the dig and immediately finds a hypnotic stone that induces drowsiness, thus transporting him back in time to the original site. There he encounters Arath, the stone's first owner, requesting help. Destined to be a priest, Arath was instead sacrificed in a grisly scene for stealing sacred statues, although his corrupt relative was the real culprit. Hector finds and hides the statues before Arath is accused, thereby negating the death and allowing him to fulfill his destiny. Back in contemporary time, Hector's rediscovery of the artifacts allows the dig's continuation. As Hector travels through his dreams, he can only observe the ancient Etruscans from the dig's confines rather than interact with them. He communicates with Arath as they have the stone in common, but their shared time is short, with contemporary language used, so that the historical contrast is lessened. Etruscan facts are provided by the adults but frequently sound didactic. Hector and Arath share being discounted by adults, a popular theme with younger readers. Hector's discovering Arath's stone-saving him and easily relocating the long-buried artifacts that eluded professional archeologists-is contrived, but fits the tidy story line. The novel contains a historical note and two glossaries, but would have been more interesting had Hector interacted with the ancient Etruscans. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M (Readable without serious defects;For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2005, Henry Holt, 176p., Ages 11 to 14.
—Lisa A. Hazlett
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Eleven-year-old Hector feels invisible. His parents don't listen to him and don't seem to care that he doesn't want to go to Italy for the summer with his mother. When they get there, he begrudgingly finds himself enjoying helping at the archaeological dig where she assists as an Etruscan-language specialist. When Hector uncovers a strange stone with an eye carved into it, he is unprepared for what happens next. That night in the darkness of his bedroom, he realizes that the stone is glowing and beckoning him back to the archaeological site--and back in time to help an Etruscan boy named Arath from being ritually sacrificed. Barrett's accurate description of the archaeological dig and the details of Etruscan daily life are well researched and interesting. The plot holds excitement and suspense as readers wonder if Hector will find a way to save his friend. While reluctant readers may find the Italian and Etruscan words and phrases difficult to field, a glossary of terms for each language is appended. This is a good choice for kids who are interested in time travel or history.-Anna M. Nelson, Collier County Public Library, Naples, FL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Eleven-year-old Hector, spending the summer with his archaeologist mother at a dig near Florence, unearths a strange eye-shaped stone at the site of what was once an Etruscan village. The artifact brings on nightmares about Arath, who lived two thousand years ago and was in terrible danger. The stone transports both boys back and forth into each other's time. In Etruscan time, "Heck," invisible to everyone but Arath, is horrified to learn that the boy is to become a human sacrifice at the hands of a cruel relative. The story of how Hector works to foil the plot in the past and to make a remarkable discovery in the present, based on knowledge gleaned from his other-life experience, is fast-paced and suspenseful. The author imbues her fantasy with plausibility and peppers the text with fascinating shards of ancient history and archeology. A good read appended with an author's note and Etruscan-English and Italian-English glossaries. (Fiction. 10-12)

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Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.72(d)
790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

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Hector reached toward the light, which was making his closed eyelids glow deep red, and his fingers curved around something smooth, and cold, and round.

As he gripped it, he was struck with how quiet everything was. Somebody evidently had turned off the radio, and the archaeologists must be too busy to talk. Still, out in the country like this, it was odd not to hear birds singing. And the leaves weren't rustling, even though a light breeze brushed against his skin. The only sound-and it was one he had not heard before-was the faint strumming of some stringed instrument, like a guitar, only muted. It seemed to come from all around him, and the notes excited him, although he couldn't have said why.

When he cautiously opened his eyes again, the bright light from the stone had gone out. It must have dazzled his eyes, though, because the colors around him were muted, gray and white. The olive trees seemed almost transparent-he could practically see the hills through them. He turned to look back at the dig and rubbed his eyes. The toolshed looked like a shadow and he could swear that he saw the faint outline of another, larger building near it. And who were those people walking around? They didn't look like the archaeologists. Were there people there? Or was it some trick of the light? He couldn't tell for sure.

He stood up, feeling like he was moving in slow motion. What was this? Was he having some new problem with the time change that made him groggy and slow? But he wasn't sleepy; he felt more wide awake and alert than he'd ever been before. It was just that the world looked faded around him. His fingers loosened, and the rock dropped out of his hand.

From down at the dig he heard a sudden burst of laughter, followed by quick chatter in a foreign language. The sound of the radio, playing an American rap song, was clear and loud. A motor scooter sped down the path from the town and buzzed out of sight around the hill. And now the day was bright again, with a warm yellow light that made everything look solid and comfortable. The toolshed stood squat and real, and there was no other building near it, not even an outline. The shadowy people were gone-of course, he told himself, they had never been there to begin with-and the only person walking around was Susanna, bending over trenches and talking to the people digging in them.

The exhilaration disappeared, and suddenly Hector felt as exhausted as at the end of field day at school. What just happened here? he thought, and shook his head to try to straighten out his mind. Did I go to sleep and have a strange dream about a glowing rock? But no, the stone lay on the ground in front of him. It was no longer dazzling-if it ever had been-and he picked it up and looked at it. It was just a chunk of white rock. Nothing out of the ordinary. And there was a hole near the tree root, about the same the size and shape. So he hadn't dreamed about digging it up.

He rolled the rock around in his palm and saw that on the other side was a blue circle of stone surrounding a smaller black one. It looked like an eye. Weird, he thought. He glanced toward the dig and started to call Ettore, but then reconsidered How can I tell him about the light? he wondered. And about the way that it felt like I just had to pick up that stone? He told me to call him as soon as I found anything interesting, and this sure is interesting. He might get angry that I didn't say anything.

The exhaustion moved over him again, dragging his eyelids down, pulling his chin toward his chest. He sat down, leaning against the tree, the rock loose in his palm. I'll just shut my eyes for a few minutes, he thought. And then I'll think of what to do. Once again the world grew dim and sound faded away, but this time it was the familiar vagueness of normal sleep that was overtaking him.

He was standing at the edge of a crowd of people, gathered together in a tight but silent group. The light was clear, but strangely pale, like when you open your eyes under water in a swimming pool.

Everyone was looking in the same direction, toward a brightly-colored building that looked vaguely familiar to Hector as he turned to see what they were all staring at. It was larger than the other structures around it. Nobody was talking. Even the babies and small children were still.

Why were they all focused so intently? Hector screwed up his eyes and followed their gaze. The building was different from anything he'd ever seen before. It looked kind of like the temples pictured in books on ancient Greece and Rome. A short flight of steps led up to a row of columns, which in turn supported a peaked roof. A carved face with its tongue sticking out gazed with crossed eyes over the crowd from the point of the roof, and animals that looked like a mix between eagles and cats perched on the corners. Hector could barely make out a closed door behind the row of columns, but it was in such deep shadow under the overhang that he couldn't make out any of its details.

Unlike pictures of the old temples, all the different parts of this building were painted. The columns were blue and red, the details of the animals and the face on the roof were picked out in many colors, the edges outlined in black. It was so colorful that it almost hurt Hector's eyes in the odd light.

People were beginning to mutter and shift their weight from foot to foot, as though impatient. A baby started to cry and was shushed.

Still, they all stared at the colorful building. The tension grew until Hector could have sworn he saw electric sparks shooting around the crowd.

And then the temple door burst open.

Hector sat bolt upright, his throat closed tight in panic. Had he screamed? He settled back against the knobby tree, his heart pounding, and tried to steady his breath. Despite the bright sun, he felt a chill that started deep in his bones. He wished he'd stayed asleep just a little longer. He hadn't seen what was coming through the door, but whatever it was, it would have been better to see it than to wake up not knowing.

The strange eye-shaped rock was still in his hand. He stared at it and shuddered.

"Did you find something?"

It was Ettore. Mutely, Hector held out the eye. As Ettore took it from him, Hector warmed, as though a hidden sun had come out again. And he felt something else too. He had that odd sensation of having lived through all this before. What did his dad call it? Déjà vu.

d"Greek," Ettore said. "Modern."

"How do you know it's not ancient?"

Ettore rolled the eye over in his hand. "It wasn't deep enough in the dirt," he said. "The Etruscan things are farther down. And anyway, the city seems to stop back there," and he pointed toward the trenches. Hector barely listened. The strange déjà vu was slipping away, and the more he tried to hold onto it, the faster it fled. He shook his head and blinked.

Ettore had evidently finished talking while Hector was feeling time slide around, because the man handed the stone back to him and squatted by the place where Hector had been digging. Hector held the strange eye-shaped thing, considering whether to throw it far away, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to do it. He slid it into his pocket instead and stood up.

Ettore was inspecting the small hole where Hector had found the stone.

"Good work," he said. "You didn't disturb anything more than what you had to. What made you dig it up, anyway?"

Hector didn't want to say he'd seen it shining. That must have been just a trick of the light. So he just said, "It looked too round to be a regular rock." He hoped that Ettore wouldn't be angry with him for not calling him when he found "something interesting," but the archaeologist didn't seem to care. Maybe it was because he had already decided that the eye was modern.

Ettore nodded. "I think you understand how we work, now. Susanna said you may try in the trench when you showed me you could do the work. Would you like to?" He gestured behind him.

"Sure!" Hector said. There had to be more interesting things than eye-shaped stones there. Maybe he'd find the tomb of a pharaoh. No, that was Egypt. Still, there had to be tombs here someplace. As Ettore said, the Etruscans didn't just throw dead bodies in the trash. Or not usually.

Copyright © 2005 Tracy Barrett
This text is from an uncorrected proof.

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Meet the Author

Tracy Barrett is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including the Sherlock Files books, King of Ithaka, Cold in Summer, and Anne of Byzantium. Her books have been named an ALA Best Book for young adults, a Bank Street best children's book of the year, and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, among many other honors. She is a professor of Italian language and civilization at Vanderbilt University and lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee.

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