Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.
Confession: I did NOT have high hopes that I would love this book.
Hell, I wasn't even expecting to like it, much less lose my mind over it. Maybe the cover didn't sit with me quite right. Maybe because it technically wasn't my usual fare of die-hard YA Fantasy. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read the synopsis. I DON'T KNOW. Every arrow, however, pointed to DO NOT RESUSCITATE.
I could not have been more wrong.
The feels. There are so many. Titanic-worthy, Lassie-come-home, Godzilla-sized FEELS OVER ALL THE PLACE!!!!
Tissue box at the ready, people.
~What I loved about Passenger~
1. Etta, our main protagonist, is an 17 year old concert violinist / prodigy
Initially I met this with some degree of cynicism. After Wikipedia-stalking the author, Alexandra Bracken (who, if her Twitter account is to be trusted, seems like an adorable, nerdy, cinnamon roll of awesomeness!), my fears were confirmed that she was NOT a violinist. Or a musician of any sort.
And cue the stomach clenching.
Fun Musical Factoid of the Day: One of the quickest ways to piss off a musician is to pretend you are one, using terminology in some convoluted, farcical combination that sounds impressive but in reality is actually complete and total sh!t.
Listen... I don't know how she did it. Maybe she interviewed violinists, or took lessons to prep for this novel, or played an instrument as a child... BUT OH MY SWEET JESUS DID SHE PULL IT OFF!!!
The inner monologue Etta had in the beginning of the novel while she was practicing, or when she was about to walk on stage to perform, or how she "played" on her wrist without realizing (I TOTALLY DO THIS!!!!), the sensation you have when you cradle the violin to your shoulder... All of it shot right through me like a bullet, resounding in my heart as a fellow violinist would.
2. This is not your typical science fiction novel
The pacing of this book does not lend itself to the typical science fiction trope. In fact, it doesn't even really pick up until the last 100 pages of the book, in my opinion. Which was, for once, really refreshing.
Authors - especially nowadays - are pushed more and more to increase the pacing of their works. If you pick up Mansfield Park (1814) and compare it to To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), then compare both to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), I bet you could notice a SIGNIFICANT difference in the tempo of the plot.
Part of me wonders if this is a reaction to the advances we've made in film and technology. This issue has bled over into academia, as students nowadays have shorter and shorter attention spans then they did 20-30 years ago (I've interviewed a substantial number of veteran professors/teachers, and all agree with this observation), forcing a change in teaching techniques and an increase in hybrid online/face-to-face classes.
So when Passenger was able to hold my attention, despite a slower paced plot, it made me to pause and realize: Fast paced plots aren't necessary when you have quality content.
*throws hands over head defensively* Not to say that fast-paced books are crap!! BUT IF THEY WERE, you'd realize it sooner if the author wasn't rushing you through scene sequences at the speed of light. *wink*
3. Passenger: AKA, The Magic School Bus of Time Travel
Apart from the obvious musical themes, I also loved how sneaky Alexandra Bracken was in teaching readers about various time periods & places without being blatant with overly-prosed descriptions and history lessons.
Who here remembers Mrs. Frizzle and The Magic School Bus books/TV Show? Where she takes her class to outer space, under the sea, inside the human body, etc. in the name of teaching and adventure? I was ALL OVER THAT as a kid.
Passenger is the YA equivalent of a Historical Magic School Bus. And it's brilliant.
Brava, Bracken. BRAVA.
4. Bad-a$$ Underlying Themes
Nicholas, our co-protagonist, is a mixed race sailor from the 18th Century, which brings about a pandora's box of racial tensions, prejudices, societal restrictions, etc. Etta is a modern young woman from the 21st Century, raised with an education, independence, confidence, and a disgust for corsets and other binding feminine apparatuses.
Bracken does a marvelous job of twisting hilarity with darker undertones of racism, socioeconomic divisions of class, women's rights (or lack thereof...), patriarchal dominance, religion, and greed.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!! It was a fantastic read, and I'm curious to see how Alexandra Bracken spins the premise with her next installment, Wayfarer!
Visit Alexandra Bracken's site for more information on her Passenger series, as well as her NYTimes Bestselling series The Darkest Minds.