Author: Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Length: 496 pages
Published by: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Diversity: Biracial major character (half African-American, half white), minor Muslim character of color, two non-Western settings
Let's get my superficiality out of the way first: this book is gorgeous. The cover design is pretty, but it's even better in person. IT'S SHINY!
I knew I would like this book from the second I heard about it. It's about time travel, music, and a scavenger hunt, and it's written by one of my favorite people ever, Alexandra Bracken. (Side note: I've managed to read 3 Alexandra Bracken books this month. It's been wonderful. Can this happen every month?) So, naturally, I had to buy it as soon as I possibly could. Once I'd started reading, not even the thought of having to wait an entire year for the sequel could slow me down.
Even with all that anticipation, the beginning of the book was rough for me. In the prologue, I had no idea what was going on. I know that that was mostly the intention, but it was still disorienting. The chapters immediately after the prologue didn't shed any light on the matter, either. It didn't really make sense until a few hundred pages into the book. Looking back, I do understand why it was put there, and I'm glad it was.
Once the plot arrived in present-day New York, I was immediately sucked in. I still didn't really know what was going on, but that was okay, because neither did Etta. I trusted that once the action began, everything would be explained, and I was right. Very right. I'd already heard that parts of this book were pretty much giant info-dumps, and while that's correct, I think it was done very well. Giving less information would have stranded all of the readers in a sea of baffling ignorance a couple hundred pages later, and even the heaviest info-dumps didn't slow down the pacing.
One of the many reasons I was excited for this book was the diversity: Nicholas, one of the two main characters, is biracial (half African-American, half white). And in many of the time periods and places that he and Etta travel to, that's vital. I especially appreciated that issues of race aren't swept off to the side and magically explained away. Nicholas and Etta confront racist people, and Etta repeatedly acknowledges that her own privilege prevents her from even imagining what facing that kind of prejudice is like. When they talk about the present day, it's not treated as some utopia; it's brought up a few times that time hasn't erased these problems. (This is the part where I point out that since I'm white, I can't be the final authority on whether this was done well, as it doesn't in any way represent my experiences. If any African-American/biracial people want to speak about how this was handled, their opinions are more valuable.)
I came very, very close to giving this book a 5-star rating, but a couple of things stopped me. First, as I touched on before, I was at least a little confused for a significant portion of the book. I know I'd understand more on a reread (which I'll definitely do eventually), and maybe I'll bump up my rating then. However, there was one more thing: as much as I love the relationship between Nicholas and Etta, it felt a tiny bit like insta-love. It wasn't the moment they met, and there were a few time jumps (not of the time travel kind) where their relationship could have developed off the page, but they did seem to become awfully close awfully quickly. Their chemistry helped make up for that, though. They're so wonderful together! Well done, Ms. Bracken, creating yet another couple that makes me smile just thinking about them.
Looking through this review, I think I've focused a lot on the negative, which doesn't seem quite right. I loved this book! I loved the characters, I loved the world and the worldbuilding, and the plot was fantastic. I enjoyed myself the entire time I was reading, even in the parts where I was a bit lost. I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes Alexandra Bracken's other books, time travel, historical settings, scavenger hunts, or just fun adventures. I can't wait to see where Alexandra Bracken will take us in book two, Wayfarer...which I now have to wait an entire year for.