Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on March 13th 2018
A congressman's daughter who has to be perfect. A star quarterback with a secret. A guy who's tired of being ignored. A clarinet player who's done trying to fit in. An orphaned rebel who wants to teach someone a lesson. A guy who wants people to see him, not his religion.
They couldn't be more different, but before the morning's over, they'll all be trapped in a school that's been rocked by a bombing. When they hear that someone inside is the bomber, they'll also be looking to one another for answers.
Oh, Time Bomb. I really, really wanted to like you. I’ve been hoping for a newer, spiritual successor cousin to Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes for years now. I was disappointed by This Is Where It Ends, and I really wanted – needed – Time Bomb to fill in where others have fallen flat. Unfortunately for me, this just wasn’t it. This book wasn’t bad per se, but it wasn’t good, either – it was entirely, incandescently mediocre.
How I’d Describe This Book to My Friends
We all know the basic premise of The Breakfast Club by now, right? Even if you’ve never actually sat down and watched it, you know it’s a classic 80s film about a bunch of kids who get stuck together in Saturday detention for various reasons. They have nothing in common, there is thinly-veiled sexual tension omnipresent in the library they are stuck in, and eventually they learn to cooperate and love and all that good, wholesome jazz.
Time Bomb takes this premise and flips it around a little bit. We have here six characters who each have a reason to be at school the week before the new school year starts. Whether it’s to get a new student ID, work on the newspaper, practice football … the book starts with six chapters where we get to know a little bit about each teenager and why they in particular are disgruntled. Everyone’s chapter ends with them grabbing their backpack and setting off to school determined to do … whatever it is they are going to do. It’s blatantly obvious to us from the get-go that the bomber in this case is one of the six, but which one? They are all there with backpacks! Oh the humanity.
We know right away (… okay, we hope to all that is good that) it’s not the Muslim student, because why would you do that? So now we’re left with five suspects with equally oddball motives. The Stereotype Gang is all here: the princess, the shy chubby outcast, the really pissed off goth kid, the closeted football player and his non-closeted love interest who is exasperated at his partner’s closeted-ness. The students are spread throughout the school doing whatever it is they are doing in that moment, when a bomb goes off. And from there, the 300-odd remaining pages take off.
It was very jarring to me to have six POVs. I understand why Charbonneau did this – it would have taken a bunch of the magic of the “whodunnit” away from the reader if they only had a handful of perspectives to absorb, so we have to go with all of them. But the trouble is that without them mentioning what makes them different periodically throughout the chapters (“I thought of my family and how different they treated me since I’d come out,” or “I had to use my father’s vast political empire to my advantage”), we’d likely have a hard time deciphering everyone’s voices. Add to this the fact that while I commend Ms. Charbonneau for writing in so many varied POVs … it’s definitely not an own voices book, and that makes it hard for me to get into the head of, say, an African-American football player or a young Muslim boy struggling with his facial hair brought on by early puberty. The characters are just sort of one big jar of sad, angsty mayonnaise waiting to get extracted from the wreckage of their high school.
What put the final nail in the coffin for me was the ending, when we discovered which student had coordinated this attack, and why. I think I actually said out loud, in public no less, “what the hell?” – it didn’t make sense to me, and felt like such a weak premise. At no point did I buy it.
This book tries. It really does. I will give it that credit. However, it tries too hard to be effective, in my opinion – had it been about four or even three students, it might have been easier to keep track of what was going on. But the bland “sameness” of it all just made it very difficult to really get truly invested in any one character.
Time Bomb was my March Once Upon a Book Club book, and I did enjoy the gifts that came along with it. That alone, though, was not enough to redeem the utter blahness of the story as a whole. I finished this about a week ago, and I had to stop and really think before I could remember who the culprit was. That alone should tell you how memorable this story unfortunately is.