Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Paulsen (Brian's Winter) works his magic with another wilderness adventure yarn. But the wilderness this time isn't in this worldor is it? That's what 13-year-old Mark tries to discover. On his first solo backpacking trip, crossing an old missile range in a desert out west, a mysterious blue light transports him to a thick red jungle under a sulfurous sky. There the struggle for survival soon supersedes the quest for the route home. Paulsen draws on such Saturday-matinee staples as poisonous insects, deadly quicksand and murderous beasts; Mark even swings on vines with a friendly monkey-like creature (and this is just the first 30 pages). Yet the plot feels fresh, thanks to the author's taut, unsentimental storytelling (Mark's Tarzan-esque antics, for example, result in broken ribs). Mark grows to manhood in the four or so years of his sojourn; the narrative, meanwhile, continues at a hurtling pace. The teen saves a girl's life, then joins her tribe of forest-dwellers; later, he is captured with them and enslaved by the more technologically advanced Tsook people. There are raids, escapes and brushes with the Tsook overlord, the Merkon, who takes a frighteningly keen interest in Mark. Readers may figure out who the Merkon is long before the protagonist does, but no matterthe action along the way (including just the right dash of romance) is never less than enthralling. While the story is self-contained, the end points to a sequel, so, with any luck, another installment is on the way. Ages 12-up. (May)
Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
Mark is camping alone in the desert when a shaft of light transports him to what seems like a different world. Even the colors of trees, soil, and sky are odd. And the inhabitants! What very peculiar, primitive tribes! But one of the tribes is friendly, and their language is not completely impossible. Mark lives on Transall for several years before he's shown some artifacts that lead him to say, "I belong to a time hundreds, no probably thousands, of years in the past." Paulsen writes a thrilling adventure story that ends with just a little twist.
VOYA - Libby Bergstrom
On his first solo backpacking trip, Mark Harrison discovers a mysterious blue light, falling through it and landing in a strange land. From there, in episodes of non-stop action, he learns to survive on his own with little more than his pocketknife and a few broken matches. As days become years, Mark meets the inhabitants of this world called Transall, suffers as a slave, proves himself a noble warrior, and fights violent raids. He learns that he entered Transall through a time warp, and is on a radically different Earth changed by nuclear war and viral epidemics. Transall eventually becomes home to Mark. He falls in love and plans to get married, until he again finds the blue light and winds up back in his own time. Paulsen touches on the serious issues of racism, slavery, and human rights, but the breakneck speed of the plot allows little time for the exploration of these themes. The characterization is shallow, and Mark comes across as almost too good to be true--for example, he is able to fluently speak the language of the Tsook, the people who have enslaved him, after only a few months with them. Readers caught up in the excitement of the plot won't notice these weaknesses, however. Mark lives out the dreams of many YAs--to be independent, respected, and powerful. Paulsen has once again done what he does best, delivering a riveting tale of adventure and action. Expect this to be popular with Paulsen fans. VOYA Codes: 3Q 5P M J (Readable without serious defects, Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 5-7In this rare venture into middle-grade science fiction, Paulsen catapults a modern teenager several thousand years into a future in which mutated humans are just beginning to recover from a worldwide plague. Hiking alone, Mark falls into a time warp and wakes up in a jungle inhabited by strange, almost-familiar creatures. As he uses makeshift methods to survive and searches for the roving warp, he encounters successively more civilized, web-footed people, and works his way, as years pass, up from slave to respected warrior. After fighting a war leader known as "The Merkon" (get it? Merkon? American?), who turns out to be a convict from his own era, Mark leads the tyrant's army away from his friends and fiance before the warp snatches him back and drops him in a 1990s mall. He becomes a doctor, dedicated to finding a cure for Ebola. As Paulsen fans will expect, Mark's efforts at solo survival are engrossingly credible-funny and disgusting at times, too-but the characters are only a bit less typecast than the cultures in which they live, and the violent, contrivance-ridden plot demands readers as uncritical as a protagonist who can, in all seriousness, conclude that "in this world, war and killing weren't a part of life, they were life" (whatever that means). It's a thin bit of storytelling, but a quick read, divided into very short chapters and lit by flickers of the old Paulsen magic.John Peters, New York Public Library
Paulsen (My Life in Dog Years, 1998, etc.), treading water, offers a competent fantasy-adventure about a boy who is time- warped into a primitive world, undergoes the hero's journey, and proves he can get the girl and still go home again. Mark, 13, is thrilled to spend a few days in the desert camping, until a mysterious light transports him to a place and time not his own. When he comes upon other people, recognizable but clearly different from himself, he sees that he is in a society close to that of the first peoples in North America. The language is plain, action-oriented, and always driven toward cliff-hanging chapter endings, but there is little in the way of character development. Instead the story is filled with some powerful if old-fashioned archetypes engaged in fairly primal give-and-take: Mark kills a horrible beast and thereby rescues a young maiden from its clutches; he kills or outsmarts all enemies; he is accepted as a warrior and undergoes ceremonial tributes as such; he's sweet to younger children; and prepares to marry the chief's daughter. Other than referring to pizza and his parents once or twice, Mark is at home as a warrior/survivor; his former life falls away even as he searches for the way back to the present. In the end, the light brings a 17-year-old Mark back from what was a future brought about by a great epidemic; his readjustment is unremarked upon. Readers last glimpse Mark as an adult, trying to find a vaccine for the virus behind the epidemic. (Fiction. 10- 14)
Read an Excerpt
The desert was unusually quiet. A gentle breeze tumbled over the sparse vegetation along the wide canyon floor and then continued on its way to the north.
Thirteen-year-old Mark Harrison sat on a white slab of shale studying a small army of ants that was carrying off the crumbs that had dropped from a granola bar he'd just eaten.
A roadrunner, unaware of his presence, trotted to the base of the rock and stopped near a crimson cactus flower. Mark shifted position and it scurried away in the opposite direction.
He yawned even though it wasn't late. The sun hadn't completely faded behind the blue-gray mountains to the west. Still, he had put in a long day. He'd walked farther that day than on any of the previous three days and he was ready to turn in.
His parents had given him just one short week to backpack across the old Magruder Missile Range. And if he didn't meet them at the appointed spot on the other side by Saturday afternoon his mom had threatened to call out the National Guard.
Hiking and backpacking were Mark's one obsession. He saved every dime of his paper-route money to buy equipment and now he had some of the best. In his spare time he studied survival books and magazines to stay up on the latest techniques. But so far he had been allowed to hike only short, easy trails and had actually camped out only twice in his life. This time he'd hit the jackpot, though.
Mark stretched, ran his hand through his short brown hair and grabbed his bedroll and pack. He'd decided to make camp in the canyon. The quiet here was a little unnerving for a city boy, but there was a trickle of water, and a dead tree that protruded from the south wall wouldprovide plenty of firewood.
When the small blaze was crackling and his bed was made, Mark stretched out on the soft down sleeping bag and stared up at the stars. This was the life he wanted for himself. Someday he'd fix it so that he was always camping under the wide-open skies.
He yawned again and was just about to settle in for the night when a flaming ball of fire shot over the edge of the canyon wall.
The fiery thing was the size of a grapefruit and glowed bright orange around its blue edges. It danced and sputtered when it touched the ground. Then it fizzled away to nothing.
Mark snapped on his flashlight and found his camera. He scrambled to the top of the dirt wall and peeked over. To his right, behind a huge rectangular boulder, was a bright, iridescent beam of bluish white light that seemed to be projected at the ground from somewhere in the sky.
For a full minute he stood transfixed, watching the strange tube of light. It had two sections, each supercharged with electricity. The sides pushed mightily against each other, but both were equal in power, so nothing moved except for an occasional shooting spark caused by the tremendous friction.
He shook his head. This was worth looking into. Maybe it was some sort of experiment the air force had once conducted out here and then forgotten about, or maybe . . . He swallowed. Maybe it was something not from this planet at all.
Mark inched closer, snapping pictures as he went. When he reached the boulder he used his flashlight to search for a way up and began climbing.
The top of the big rock was flat. He pulled himself up and sat, staring again. The inside of the tube contained myriad surging colors: reds, blues and yellows. It was like watching a spectacular laser light show being performed just for him.
Slowly he put out his hand to see if the light generated heat. Too late, he heard the rattle--and felt the snake strike.
He jerked his hand back and leaped to his feet. The sudden movement threw him off balance and he fell, off the boulder and into the light.