You know what I love? A YA romance series with a gimmick.
You know what else I love? Terrible depictions of the 1960s: the 1999 NBC miniseries “The 60’s”, in which one family experiences every political and cultural event of the decade in the most superficial way possible (and daughter Julia Stiles runs away to San Francisco with the lead singer of a Manfred Mann cover band); or the final chapters of The Wakefields of Sweet Valley, in which Elizabeth and Jessica’s parents are revealed to be groovy, but not too groovy. My sister and I would occasionally perform dramatic readings from the latter.
So, I was pretty excited about Eileen Goudge’s Swept Away series, which promised to mash together the premise of Back to the Future with YA Historicals and make something great, right?
Background: High School girl-genius Ashley Calhoun has invented a computer that enables her and her friends to travel back in time and meddle in the lives of their ancestors. Apparently in the first volume, Eileen Goudge’s Swept Away #1: Gone With the Wish she travels back to the Antebellum South in order to wear hoop skirts and help her Great Grandmother elope with some dude. Since I’ve already read Teen Witch #3: Gone With the Witch, I operated under the assumption that I already knew what was going to happen and that it was going to be boring, and skipped ahead to Eileen Goudge’s Swept Away #2: Woodstock Magic.
The Plot: High School girl-genius Ashley Calhoun’s friend Louise “Lou” Greenspan is convinced that life was much better in the 1960s and therefore walks around being all superior toward her family and classmates in the 1980s. She pretty much only nice to her Uncle Joe, a Tommy Chong-like burnout (oh, excuse me a fellow “veteran of outer space”); “Sergeant Pepper”, a mysterious man that she corresponds with through the newspaper’s personals column; and Ashley, because ASHLEY HAS A TIME MACHINE.
As the story opens, Lou is facing three separate, equally uncompelling dilemmas: her corporate lawyer yuppie parents are representing the local power company in their bid to build a new plant on a piece of unspoiled public land called The Meadows; Lou is having a power struggle with a boy named Ethan in her high school Ecology Club over how to best protest the above; and finally Lou’s pen pal-slash-dream man, Sergeant Pepper, wants to meet in person, but she is worried that he might not be as into the Sixties as he claims he is!
Obviously, the solution is to travel back in time for some reason.
Despite the fact that she only know that Woodstock took place “sometime in August” and “somewhere in upstate New York” Ashley is able to zap Lou back in time to catch the end of The Who’s set. She notes that “Pete Townshend had all his hair! John Entwhistle was skinnier!”
Lou only sticks around Woodstock for a few pages, because it turns out that the hippies are mean jerks! They call her uptight!
“I always thought freedom worked both ways,” she said in a loud, clear voice. “You should be free to choose not to do something if you don’t want to.”
She is only there long enough to be superior to all of the hippies, clutch her pearls in contempt when offered marijuana and help deliver the Woodstock baby. Then she’s off to visit her circa-1969 Connecticut suburb because that’s going to be way funner than sticking around for Jimi Hendrix. In conclusion: “She’d read that everyone at Woodstock had helped everyone else out. What a bummer to find out it wasn’t true.”
For a story about a self-professed “sixties freak” the ghostwriter takes a pretty blatant anti-counterculture attitude, starting when she is plunked down at Woodstock and continuing with her arrival in her hometown of Westdale, where she immediately runs into her 17 year old mother, Ellie, at a Viet Nam War protest (a-duh!) Just days away from meeting her future husband and immediately falling in love at first sight, Lou is shocked, shocked to learn that her mother is planning to run away to Canada with a draft-dodging lowlife type named Dick Flick, who utters such platitudes as “Money isn’t important if you have love. Right, babe?”
Lou convinces Ellie that she’s a teenaged runaway, and Ellie convinces her parents that she is the new girl at school and they should let her sleep over for an indefinite period of time. Lou becomes apoplectic at the thought of having a shiftless hippie for a father and keeps trying to come up a scheme to break up her mother and Dick Flick. Along the way she attends summer school with her mother (who had failed all of her classes for day dreaming about Dick Flick) and BLOWS THE MIND of the current events teacher with her crazy future-talk about President Nixon:
“What if,” she began, “he did get reelected but he did something illegal? He’d have to resign then, right?”
“Resign?” Miss Ballard said incredulously. “No American President has ever resigned.”
Sadly, before Lou can successfully meddle in her mother’s life any more, she’s sucked back into 1986, where High School girl-genius Ashley Calhoun explains that a bug in the computer program results in Lou being able to stay in 1969 for only two days at a time, and having to wait two 1986-days before she can time travel again. Got that?
And hence the biggest problem with the plot: when Lou gets back to 1986 her parents are still married as usual. There is no explanation as to why Lou must personally meddle with the past to ensure that her parents get together. Obviously, her 1969-mother did not run off with Dick Flick after all, but Lou is really insistent about traveling back in time again to personally break them up.
In the meantime, she spends her two days in 1986 antagonizing her parents about representing the power company by having the Ecology Club organize a protest at The Meadows, during the course of which she shares a hate-kiss with Ethan and shouts the following:
“I guess we might as well do away with all the rest of the ‘useless’ things in the world- things like music and paintings and poetry!”
Finally two days are up and Ashley is able to send Lou back to 1969. Lou’s plan to break up Ellie and Flick? Steal Ellie’s life savings! Which she does. Flick summarily dumps Ellie which leaves her disillusioned, but ready to meet her future husband at her 18th birthday party. Needless complication resolved.
Back in 1986 she reads one of her mother’s poems that she brought back from 1969 at the protest rally, which singlehandedly saves The Meadows and so moves her mother that she quits the law firm on the spot!
But how will she choose between Sergeant Pepper and Ethan? No problem, they turn out to be the same person! He is also the Woodstock Baby! Lou feels so lucky because he is “the first guy I ever met who’s heard of bands like Buffalo Springfield and Love and Moby Grape.”
It’s as true in 2012 as it was in 1986: what the world is missing these days is bands like Moby Grape.
Moral of the story?
“Before I traveled back in time I thought the sixties were full of love. Then I found out that people are pretty much the same no matter what year it is.”
Sign It Was Written In 1986 Department: “I’m hooking into the research computer at the Westdale library with Merlin’s modem.”
Daddy Issues Department: “Ellie’s parents put Lou in a mental hospital where a doctor who looked just like her father wheeled her into an operating room. ‘After I perform the lobotomy,’ he said in an evil voice, ‘your mind will be rid of all of these foolish thoughts of peace and love. Then we’ll be able to send you to the Meadows to work in the power plant for the rest of your life.’”
Best Newspaper Headline Ever Department: “TEEN POEM INFLUENTIAL IN SAVING LOCAL LAND.”