Goodreads: Lost in Paris
Series: Mira’s Diary #1
Mira’s mother disappeared without a trace and Mira has gone from feeling sad and betrayed to feeling just plain angry. Then a postcard arrives featuring the gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral and Mira’s father thinks it’s a clue to his wife’s whereabouts and that the family should head to Paris to find out. Once in France, however, Mira learns that she has inherited a time travel gene–a gene she doesn’t know how to control. Now she’s stuck in nineteenth-century France, meeting famous artists but also becoming embroiled in the infamous Dreyfus Affair.
Marissa Moss returns to the popular diary format, this time introducing readers to the young Mira, a girl who discovers that she has inherited a time travelling gene from her mother, but who does not know how to control it. Suddenly readers are swept away with Mira to nineteenth-century France, meeting famous artists like Renoir and Mary Cassatt, but also learning about the injustices of the past. The result is half fun historical adventure and half morality lesson. Perhaps younger readers may overlook the didactic tones, but older readers may feel it diminishes the story.
Mira herself feels a little flat as a character, meaning that her adventures must power the story for the book to succeed. For half the book, her adventures prove engaging and puzzling enough to keep readers interested. Then however, a new twist appears: Mira, her mother alleges, has travelled into the past for a reason. She must right the wrongs of history and save Capt. Alfred Dreyfus from false accusations of treason. By doing so, Mira will somehow also avert a terrible event that will take place in her own future.
At this point the book begins to feel terribly heavy. Most readers, I suspect, are not very familiar with the Dreyfus Affair and thus will find themselves educated through the pleasures of storytelling.* Introducing readers to such injustices is a valuable goal of the story, but eventually it begins to seem rather as if Moss lost control of her own book. Instead of featuring Mira and her adventures and her reactions, it becomes an extended history lesson filled with heavy-handed commentary about anti-Semitism through the ages and the need for Mira to teach those around her to forget their bigotry and band together to save Dreyfus. I appreciate the message of the story, the focus on injustice, and the need to confront prejudice in all its forms. I just am not convinced that having a modern hero go into the past to rail against their flawed justice system was the best way to present the need for action.
Aside from the plot, the basic premise of the story seems flawed. Time travelling in this world is not always done consciously. Instead, Mira uses touchstones (basically any sculpture, grave, fancy rock, etc.) to find herself whipped into the past. She cannot control when or where she goes, but she does conveniently find herself dressed in the appropriate clothing. Her mother says Mira time travels because there is a need, because she must change something in the past. Others, however, claim that time travellers are not supposed to interfere with the past at all.
If there is no “need” (and, if there is, who decides the need and activates the touchstone?), how and why is Mira time travelling? And how can the Watches, the time travel police, go back in time to punish people for time travelling if they aren’t supposed to be interfering with the past? Also, where did Mira’s clothes come from? And why is time travelling so arbitrary? One moment Mira’s walking along and the next thing you know, she’s tripped, hit a stature, and she’s in the past. It just doesn’t make sense.
Because I like the idea of a young girl travelling through time and meeting cool famous people, however, I’ve chosen to ignore the nonsensical time travel rules and to focus on the awesome parts of the story, like meeting the French Impressionists. I can’t wait to read the sequel and see whom else Mira meets.
*The Affair, in case you were wondering, saw Capt. Dreyfus falsely accused of communicating French military secrets to the German embassy, the suspicions against him being raised due to his Jewish ancestry. When it became apparent that Dreyfus was innocent, military officials suppressed the evidence against the real culprit in order to save face and Dreyfus was convicted and sent to prison. Years later he received another trial, but was again convicted, then pardoned.