cover image A Time Apart

A Time Apart

Diane Stanley. HarperCollins Publishers, $15.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-688-16997-8

In her first novel, consummate picture-book biographer Stanley (Joan of Arc) proves she is virtually as adept at creating fictional characters as she is at chronicling the lives of real people. Her premise here sounds complicated and even contrived; to her credit, it unfolds with ease. When Ginny's mother is diagnosed with breast cancer and faced with treatment, the 13-year-old is hastily shipped out from her home in Houston to England to join her professor father--long divorced, he has had little contact with Ginny. Her father is helping head up an experimental archeology project: he and various colleagues and volunteers have re-created an Iron Age village. Ginny is handed homespun clothes, advised to brush her teeth with a hazel twig and thrown into community life. Intelligent and compassionate, Ginny finds ways to cope with the deprivations, both material and emotional. Stanley makes the Iron Age-related challenges (such as finding the right clay to make cooking pots) as compelling as Ginny's emotions, and the protagonist always seems lifelike. The only missteps come when Ginny runs away from the project--it's hard to suspend disbelief when she, shoeless, penniless and clad in her bizarre clothing, finds her way safely to her dad's vacated London apartment. This sequence aside, the novel gives readers a chance to savor exotic experiences along with the challenges of coming of age. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)