[Please note: I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange only for an honest and thorough review. This is (to the best of my ability) a spoiler-free review.]
For years, Jessa’s very normal life has revolved around helping take care of her brother, going to school, and doing her best to remember her latest dream to include in a story later. More recently, a boy has been appearing in her dreams, over and over. Her world is turned topsy-turvy when this same boy appears in the real world, following her around and cryptically insisting she knows him. Her dream boy and favorite character, Finn, reveals a new world to her: A world of Travelers, people who can travel between times and realities via mirrors and other reflections. But it’s not as magic and romantic as she thinks. Reality upon alternate reality is threatened by a rogue Traveler, and it seems it’s Jessa’s destiny to save all worlds and people she’s never met.
Jessa’s story is told in a simple, point-blank tone that reminds us of the contrast between her real world and the other realities she visits. As a character, Jessa is very normal and familiar; her concerns and aspirations are similar to a younger me and the characters she enjoyed writing about too. She is a kind, altruistic girl who won’t take no for an answer and stands up for what she believes in, even in the face of powers she can barely fathom. Her fellow characters are similarly straight-forward and uncomplicated and her relationships with them — especially with her mom and older brother — are caring and well-documented throughout the narrative. Broad gestures to inclusivity, including the detailed portrayal of Jessa’s older brother’s autism, another Jessa’s deafness, and brief references to people of color, are making an effort unlike most young adult novels, though little work is done to fully highlight these portrayals’ features in the story.
Unlike a lot of young adult novels, Traveler has not just one romantic subplot but two that generally refrain from overpowering the narrative’s central conflict. Jessa’s relationship with Finn, though they rarely communicate about its complexity, is relatively straightforward while a momentary love triangle is barely touched on and left comparatively unresolved. All of the romantic relationships we see in the text — excluding that of Jessa’s divorced parents, who still separated amicably several years earlier — are based on mutual respect, slow-burn crushes, kindness, and protective streaks on each characters’ part. There are few problematic aspects to the relationships other than Finn’s initial stalking attempts.
The concepts of mirror travel and alternate realities have both been used before, but rarely in tandem — the only literary exception I can think of is Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871) — as in DeLano’s Traveler. Jessa discovers early in the book that she can travel via reflection into her own alternate realities, all separated by mere decisions and chance encounters. As a Traveler, it has been assigned her job to travel into alternate realities and “fix” timelines for preferred outcomes. While an interesting concept, we don’t experience a myriad of alternate realities — only six of the millions mentioned — and this first book focuses mainly on Jessa learning, sometimes even in a classroom setting, about her Traveling skills rather than using them. This is a realistic take on the fantasy-world-savior trope, though it makes for a less conflict-ridden read.
With an unexpected and fast-paced ending, Traveler promises a follow-up with more Traveling and more alternate realities. DeLano’s young adult debut has a promising premise, entertaining characters and romance, and several sets of cliffhangers to prepare us for a sequel. Though a lot of the story involves slow builds and low conflict as well as less Traveling than might be expected based on the synopsis (and cover art), Traveler delivers a story of new worlds, kind hearts, and romance.
L.E. DeLano’s Traveler was published February 7, 2017, with Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.