In Richard Ungar’s first middle-grade novel (following a successful series of picture books), 13-year-old Caleb is part of a team of highly trained time-travelling thieves “adopted” as young children by a man they call Uncle. For the recruits, orphans supposedly rescued from bleak childhoods, life with Uncle seems happy at first – they’re “worldschooled” at museums and zoos throughout time and around the globe, learning to blend in and be stealthy. Now that they’re getting older, however, punishments for failed missions are getting harsher, and Caleb is becoming less comfortable with his line of work, especially once he discovers new recruits are being snatched away from their families.
Time Snatchers delivers on the allure of a good era-jumping narrative. In addition to cool gadgets, readers get a glimpse of real historical events, such as the invention of photography and the Frisbee.
Of course, every time travel universe has its own set of rules, and it takes a couple of chapters to get into the rhythm of this one. Once established, they nicely tie in to the plot, the threads of which eventually weave together in a rewarding manner. Caleb’s longing for the family he never had, his frustration at fellow time snatcher and bully Frank, and his feelings for his best friend, Abbie, all play out well. It’s especially refreshing that, far from being the token love interest or sidekick, Abbie is a smart, sweet, and self-sufficient partner who helps Caleb out of hot water when he gets into trouble.
Though the ending is predictable for Caleb, the fate of Abbie and the rest of the time snatchers remains a question. A sequel is on its way, which is a good thing as there are plenty of characters to flesh out, and no limit to where – or when – the series could go.