Goodreads: September Sky
Series: American Journey #1
Source: Received from author in exchange for an honest review
Former reporter Charles Townsend and his son Justin, recently dropped out of college, take a cruise to Mexico in hopes of finding themselves but instead find the adventure of a lifetime. A new acquaintance invites the pair to travel into the past, the only requirements being to bring back a detailed report of the people and places they see and to promise not to meddle with history. When Charles and Justin arrive in 1900 Galveston, Texas, however, Charles knows he cannot sit around and do nothing when an ancestor finds himself accused of murder and when the entire town stands ready to be wiped off the map by an oncoming hurricane.
John Heldt begins his new series with a strong effort, packing September Sky with all his signature elements–time travel and romance, of course, but also compelling characters, historical detail, and enthusiasm for bringing the past to life. The story is, furthermore, a satisfying one, the kind that gives a sense of completeness at the close, and provides relief–thank goodness the world does not always go completely awry! Any fan of Heldt’s will find this a worthy addition to his body of work.
Typically the protagonists in a Heldt novel go on a personal journey as well as on a journey through time. So far each book has featured a very different, but always compelling story–we have seen a middle-aged woman facing a mid-life crisis, a college graduate and a college senior looking toward the future, twin sisters out for a good time, and a woman out of time all face their secret fears, their personal problems. In this book, we meet something new yet again–a father and a son hoping to find direction in their lives, but also hoping to rebuild their relationship.
Heldt’s stories, though typically featuring a historical disaster, are always, in the end, character-driven. The father-son relationship takes center stage in September Sky, as it rightly should, but all the characters receive Heldt’s sensitive treatment–even the minor ones, in the end, are always revealed as three-dimensional, as fully human, and thus somewhat surprising. No one ever falls into the trap of becoming a stereotype. These are characters drawn so realistically that one might expect to look up from the pages to find them walking down the street.
And what lovely characters they are. Conventional wisdom dictates that every story needs an antagonist, but though this story involves a murder mystery, even the villains come across as understandable–it is not that their actions are excused, but that their personalities are drawn with such detail, that readers can fathom the motives for their actions perhaps before they do themselves. They seem real and human, flawed but not necessarily evil. As for the rest–why, they’re the type of people you’d love to befriend and spend an afternoon with. Some might think goodness boring but Heldt proves that good characters can live just vibrantly as the bad.
September Sky is a pleasant time-travel romance, one that invites readers to take a trip into the past and just enjoy the life surrounding them. Though it ends with a natural disaster, its highlights are the small moments, the ones that illustrate just how much the people of Galveston stand to lose when the hurricane hits. It is a book that does not seek to educate about history so much as to share an appreciation of the past. That attitude, that feeling that the author simply says, “Come, let us stroll through 1900 Texas for awhile,” then stands back to give you the space you need to look around, maybe meet a friend or two, is what gives September Sky its own special charm.