A Penny Lost
By: Arlene Allen
I wanted to really like A Penny Lost by Aspen Bassett. I gave it my best shot because of the YA novel’s intriguing premise – a young woman and the stranger down the block encounter a sinister source that sends the two hurtling though time. Penelope (“Penny”) is one of those teenage girls, angsty because she feels like the unwanted child. Her mother forgets to pick her up from school, and her dad is strict. She also has this small problem of seeing auras and intuiting things about people. The only person she can talk to is her twin sister, Dinah, the parents’ “good” girl.
On the way home from school Penny is fretting about losing her dad’s tablet, but then senses a darkness around a house she has dubbed the “grieving house.” She knows that a teenage boy lives there and that someone in the home has died. She and her sister are checking the house out when they hear a scream. They burst into the house and while trying to rescue the boy from under a fallen book case, Dinah accidently pushes the controller on a Mountain Dew-fed machine in the center of the room. The machine opens up and both Penny and the boy are sucked away on a time traveling adventure.
Unfortunately, what could have been a great afternoon read in the vein of D.J. MacHale’s Pendragon series feels like an overblown pot boiler. Penny’s voice is annoying from the very beginning. I understand teenagers, and yes, some feel the same way she does about the way her parents’ treat her, but the first few pages are pretty much one long continuous whine. It’s hard to stay focused. Her ability is explained in greater depth about halfway in the book, but in the beginning it seems just another part of her inner dialog – which, by the way, is a great lesson on how not to write first person.
Once the kids are sucked in to their first adventure, which begins on the Lusitania, the action picks up and rolls the book along. The boy is nicknamed “The Stranger” because he doesn’t remember who he is or anything about the past. At first, Penny doesn’t either or at least when asked at first she can’t remember her parents name…but that goes away pretty quickly. The book can be confusing like that. It’s also unbelievably wordy.
Here’s an example: “He looked almost tan, with desert colored hair and a decent jaw line for a high schooler. He couldn’t be older than high school. If I had to guess I would have said sophomore like me. Maybe a junior. He wore a plain white t-shirt and jeans. A classic look and one that worked well on him. But it was eyes that made it worth the view. They were a pale blue I’d ever only seen on TV, like a whisper of the sky through clouds.” It sounds like a piece of fan fiction! It surely makes me wonder about her editor. And “eyes that made it worth the view?” My own eyes are rolling.
The author makes a few historical mistakes, too. When Penny and The Stranger find themselves on a prison frigate during the Revolutionary War, during a mutiny in which all of the prisoners escape, the caption calls to someone to “radio the ship’s coordinates” to land. The problem is ship to shore radios weren’t invented until 1899. That’s the kind of mistake, along with all of the other flaws in this book, that make me that the author was just lazy. In this day and age, where Google is always available, a small matter like that could be fact checked.
There’s some confusion later on in the book about who sent them where and why. After a massive word dump explaining the Void, Penny decides (during their third “leap”) it was “she” who sent them here. What? She who? At first I thought it was Dinah because Penny and The Stranger are with Shakespeare at the time and Dinah had been rehearsing “As You Like It” at the beginning of the book. (Which is the play, coincidentally, that Shakespeare is currently producing – so you see where I’m coming from.) Plus, there are very few relevant females in the book such as Penny, Dinah, Zetta the time-traveling pirate’s wife and the voice that said pirate hears when he time-travels and whom “Ricky” the pirate tells Penny she will meet.
Confusion like that is so rampant throughout the novel that there were times I just wanted to throw the book across the room, but I doubt it would have made this book any better. First the Void is pure evil, then it might be a little bit good, then…who knows. Don’t expect much from the ending, either. It’s a cliffhanger. With a title like A Penny Lost you can bet there’s going to be a sequel called A Penny Found.
Final Analysis: This premise had so much potential. I like the idea of a Mountain Dew guzzling creature of darkness, but that angle never pans out. Middle school-aged girls will like this book, perhaps, but this is not like one of the YA novels that that hold appeal for older teens or adults. Overall, it’s just an overwrought, wordy piece of fan fiction.