If you could go anyplace in the world, where would you go? If you could visit any era, what would it be? These questions lie at the heart of Maiya Williams' new novel, The Golden Hour. As the story opens, Rowen Popplewell and his sister Nina are traveling from their home in New York City to the tiny town of Owatannauk, Maine (population 104). The town may as well be the moon for the two children, who are being sent to spend the summer with two very odd great-aunts. But no one is protesting having lost their mother in a tragic accident, the grief-stricken 13-year-old boy and his near-catatonic younger sister are numb to the world around them.
It doesn't take long for the two kids to explore Owatannauk and become acquainted with Xanthe and Xavier Alexander, twins who are also visiting for the summer. Xavier, who is a little more adventuresome than the others, has discovered something mysterious: just outside of town, facing the bay, is a dilapidated, abandoned mansion a former resort. The aunts have warned the children away from the place. Yet when Xavier happens upon it, it looks like new! And, it was full of people dressed in 19th-century clothes!The children are convinced that they have discovered a time-portal (which explains the odd behavior of the town's citizens), and they debate over what it could mean. Rowen, a shy, insecure boy, is hesitant to explore other times and places. But when his sister disappears, he and his two new friends have no choice but to follow her. Their quest will test Rowen's courage and resolve, and it just might cost him his life. This is Maiya Williams' first novel, and it's a dandy. The four children are all well-drawn and believable. The plot, which is reminiscent of the work of C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle, will draw middle school readers quickly in and teach them a bit of history along the way. Williams doesn't explain everything that happens in the story, a wise move that leaves open the possibility of another adventure with these time-traveling kids. As readers discover the charms of The Golden Hour, they're certain to welcome a sequel. James Neal Webb writes from Nashville.