I’m a fan of science fiction and as a historian, time travel plots can leave me rolling my eyes. When I came across Arthur Gonzalez’s The Photo Traveler, I was a bit unsure of how to proceed, but within the first three chapters, I was hooked and didn’t want to stop reading.
Life hasn’t been easy for seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone. His adopted father is a drunk and beats him and his adopted sister lies to get her way. They both blame Gavin for the death of his adopted mother and he lives with the guilt knowing he caused her death. One night after a beating, he’s had enough. Finding his original adoption papers, Gavin decides to look for the grandparents who gave him up for adoption. One the way to Washington D.C., he encounters some unsavory characters who ask him for the glass vials and he has no idea what they are talking about. He eludes them and when he arrives in DC, he finds his grandparents are alive. Gavin confronts them and they admit to giving him up to protect him. They then tell him a secret…he’s a photo traveler and as one, he’s able to travel anywhere in the world as long as there’s a physical photograph or a drawing of an event as it occurred. Gavin goes on a journey to find the truth of what happened to his parents and along the way discovers how vital it is not to change the past because of the way it affects the future.
The writing is engaging and Gonzalez definitely is able to put the reader into the mindset of a seventeen-year-old boy. It’s quite easy for a YA science fiction centered book to be filled with clichés, but Gonzales does an excellent job keeping things fresh. The Photo Traveler is also well researched and incorporates aspects of history in the narrative. At one point Gavin travels to 17th century America and the Salem Witch Trials. I cringed when I read where he was going because anyone from the 21st century would stand out and instead of brushing that tidbit aside, Gonzalez addresses it. What’s a 17th century person suppose to think at the height of the witch trials when they see a teenage boy dressed in jeans? I won’t say what happens, but I appreciated the reaction to the incident.
In terms of character development, it’s not thorough, but since this is part of a trilogy, it makes sense to draw the characters over the course of the series. Without a doubt, this book is about Gavin and the journey to find out who he is. We find out how Gavin’s adopted mother died and it will be interesting to see if by chance a picture of the events of that day exists and if it does, will Gavin travel to that specific day? Also I have a feeling there’s more to Gavin’s photography teacher. He took an early interest in Gavin and something just doesn’t sit well with me. I think all readers will be able to associate with Gavin and his need for acceptance. Here’s a teenage boy on the cusp on being an adult who doesn’t know why he was given up. One moment he had parents and a loving home and the in the next instant he has nothing. The heartache he experiences will sadden you and make you want to reach out to hug him.
My favorite quotes:
But since I suck at lying, I was probably as believable as that girl, Cynthia, in our class who constantly shows up with hickies on her neck but keeps swearing she’s still a virgin.
When I open my eyes, a twelve-ton elephant is staring right back at me. It gives me the creeps.
With all works of fiction, especially science fiction, the ability to suspend disbelief is needed and The Photo Traveler is no exception. There are a lot of unanswered questions mostly with regards to Gavin’s mistake and inadvertently changing history. I expected a bit more drawn out discussion pertaining to the subject, but there wasn’t one. Book 2, The Peace Hunter, should touch upon this and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Arthur Gonzalez has done an excellent job with his debut novel and he’s an author to watch.