Ben and Rachel inadvertently wake their Great Aunt Polly and Great Uncle Freddy, cryogenically frozen since the 1950’s and still 12 years old. Their initial difficulties arise from easing them into the changes in the world and in society over the previous 50 years. The 1950’s kids want to find out what happened to their father who disappeared mysteriously at the time they were frozen. But while they are researching, the children are noticed by unknown enemies who then try to kidnap them. To complicate things, it is clear that the suspended animation is having serious side-effects on the health of the unfrozen youngsters.
This story, in its lightweight way, looks into the contrast of old and new with a dose of realism and a sense of humour. The basic plot belongs to the “Children’s TV Saturday Adventure” school of storytelling. The characters, mostly young teenagers, are bas-relief but engaging. The ending is a bit too neat and a bit too quick. But it is a book aimed at pre-teenagers and its qualities are not in its literary weight but in the contrast it draws between our society and that of 50 years ago. It’s pretty much a staple of time-travel stories and gently shows the two sets of children that each way of life has its advantages.
Polly has the hardest task in adjusting to life as a 21st century just-teenage girl. She is used to dressing neatly and modestly, not eating as she walks, doing the washing-up and ironing for her brother. She is appalled Rachel’s “Sweet” magazine with its lurid cover, frank discussions of body image, and advice about snogging; by the family’s slapdash approach to household management and; by the behaviour of the school bullies at the children’s co-ed school. However, she stands up for herself, briskly organises Rachel into cleaning and cooking, and gives a school bully a taste of her own medicine.
Freddy has it easier as boys’ attitudes have changed less in the intervening 50 years. He astounds the class (and the teacher) by standing politely when the headmaster enters the room, but can stand up for himself in the playground and proves to be adept on roller skates. He is the first to suffer the side-effects of long-term cryosleep but makes the others promise to keep quiet about it so as not to alarm his sister.
He and Polly, once over their initial shock, face up to life in the 21st century bravely. The 21st century youngsters are obviously on home ground, but admire the courage of their older relatives and tacitly recognise the justice behind some aspects of their old-fashioned shock. Rachel forces Polly to teach the boys how to iron their own shirts, but is shamefaced when Polly points out how dirty and disorganised their kitchen is. She even persuades the older girl to teach her how to make a cooked meal, a real contrast to the family’s usual microwaved convenience diet. This is both a graceful move to help Polly feel more comfortable and a recognition of the value of the properly-prepared meal.
There is a thin plot which keeps the story moving forward, resolving itself by a series of action set-pieces which are fairly effective and have the children defending themselves violently from real danger just as the damaging side-effects of the cryosleep manifest themselves the most. The final scenes are a little too neat, but the book smacks more of the 1950’s attitudes it gently parodies than of the grittier tales which are produced for modern youth.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.