My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Many people have probably heard the particular phrase of “Crossing the Rubicon” which means to travel to a point of no return, so to speak. R.C. Richter, author of the respective work of the same name, depicts in this young adult novel the story of seven teens who go spelunking and cave dwelling only to find themselves stuck 275 years in time crossing through various continents and attempting to survive with no way of returning home. For me, the premise of this novel sounded very exciting and I was happy to dive right into the work to see what kind of triumphs and tragedies these teens faced along their journey. It’s a little sad thinking about it because pretty much these teens are left to fend by themselves and then faced with the measure of never seeing their families again and such? That hits hard at the heart.
Yet, when I actually sat down to read “Crossing the Rubicon”, I had more than a few problems with the respective narrative, and it saddens me to say that this really took a big chunk out of my enjoyment of this novel. I almost put down the book several times because it frustrated me so much, and I could tell this story had some heart and research put into it, but the narrative does NOT do it any favors, alongside other elements I found to be frustrating.
One of the cardinal rules of writing that people cite time and time again is “show, don’t tell”. There’s a reason for that. If you tell most of your story, you run the risk of ruining the suspense and emotional resonance/impact your story communicates to the reader. I kind of understood, after a certain point, that this story (which is told in a series of journal narratives from the primary protagonist) is recounting her day to day significant activities and interactions with her friends/comrades. That I thought was fine and I had no qualms about it. There were points where I was able to connect to the protagonist because of the way she narrates her previous history and shares her experiences with her family and her interactions with her comrades/loved ones. That was fine with me. But I had a problem with the way the story kept narrating major events BEFORE they would happen, stepping outside of the self contained journal narratives and dictating events, as if they were a foregone conclusion. For example, I felt this style of the narrative cheapened one of the first major deaths in the novel because it was told, time and time again – that the person who had their particular limitation wasn’t going to make it. There are only so many times you can say “This person is going to die, he/she’s not going to make it because of such and such.” It frustrated me. I’m not going to say the character’s name for spoiler reasons, but I mentally kept saying “I really hope this is improved upon in the novel because if it continues, it’s going to lessen a lot of the impact this novel is meant to have.”
Sad to say, it continued for quite some time. It wasn’t until I was a full 65-70% in the novel when things started evening themselves out and the narrative found its legs without relying so much on the telling aspects, and I was able, after quite a few harrowing events had passed, to connect with the narrative voice a little more. That’s painful for me to write because for all intents and purposes – this is a good story – I’m not knocking it for its intentions. It has a solid founding, but I didn’t feel the full impact/connection because of the way it was told.
There were other things that bugged me in the course of the story as well. There’s a part of me that wonders maybe if it’s personal preference or if it were parts of narrative that could’ve been developed to give them a greater sense of depth. I felt “Crossing the Rubicon” really didn’t delve as much as it could have into the seven characters that it chose to showcase (although for some of them, there wasn’t enough time to get to know them before tragedy struck, and that also shortchanged character resonance to an extent, but perhaps that was necessary for the narrative to move forward, and I would say that’s a fair argument to have). Now, I understand that seven primary characters is quite a bit to keep up with, and difficult to develop inside of one narrative voice (in this case, Trinity’s), but I kept expecting to connect with the characters more than I did, especially in the given journey. Apart from maybe one or two characters in this tale, I didn’t connect all that fully, and while this ended up being a quick read for me in the overarching journey, it didn’t pull me into the plight of the teens (eventually becoming young adults in the journey) for what it was offering.
There’s also a certain naivete about the protagonist Trinity that, in certain parts, I just outright didn’t like. There’s a bit of an instalove connection between the protagonist and the guy she’s been crushing on (Jacob), so its a foregone conclusion that they end up together and I wasn’t convinced of their love from them telling each other constantly “I love you” and from the protagonist who kept telling this information of their connection. I wanted to feel it, and the immersion of showing those details would’ve made it much more genuine. Also, the generalizations about gender and race here really drove me up the wall, especially since there was really little to no context provided. The protagonist is a modern young woman going 275 years into the past. Surely there had to have been a culture shock of sorts when it came to discovering what women’s roles were in that time and their social positions in the various populations they came across. I wanted to be immersed in that much more than what I was given.
I did appreciate the teens’ fortitude in making a life for themselves, and the differential in the technologies that were noted to an extent (though I think it could’ve been more for proper development), but I was really surprised that the protagonist wasn’t more astute or at least aware of noting those differences on base level. Trinity was more concerned with “feeling like a girl again” and “how handsome the boys were after they groomed” and playing into a lot of really shallow gender/class stereotypes. That bothered me, I just couldn’t get behind that.
And the way a certain character (Kim, who’s Asian) is portrayed in the contrast of the work in spurts really drew me up the wall as well. That’s not to say that I didn’t connect with Kim, because I think she was one of the few where I thought had emotional resonance with some of the things that happened to her in the scheme of the work. Quite a few times where the attitudes toward her could’ve been given proper context – it was skirted over. There was a point where Kim’s noted as a “slave” to her Caucasian comrades/friends by a group of Spanish sailors. (And it wasn’t funny, much like Kim noted in her dialogue.) There was another point that by another group that the teens were staying with, the protagonist notes that the lot of the teens were hailed as being special because they were Caucasian, and then in the same sentence “no one knew what to make” of Kim. And then that notation just falls by its lonesome.
In the context of the book, I did understand that Kim was cared for by her friends, but I feel there were many opportunities for development that were missed, in the context of the time, the attitudes, and the characterizations. And that’s something that every periodic piece should have, especially if you have a time travel element in the progression. There’s going to be the questions of juxtaposing what our time is like compared to that respective time, in a multitude of dimensions. I understand that not all aspects can be covered but for what the story should provide, but at the very least, if you’re drawing attention to those elements, don’t be afraid to delve. Don’t be afraid to develop them and give them weight and put them in context to think about. I think teens would get more out of that and appreciate that than some off-noted reference to Twilight that’s given very little intimacy. (“Bella’s Lullaby” is referenced here as a piece played on the piano during the teens’ journey. I’m not going to go into too much detail about how that’s a bit of a loop given the liberties taken with the time travel element in this work, but there were some references here I had to just go with, with respect to the story being told.) They would also appreciate it more than some of the commercial references given here (Apple and Amazon investment?)
That I realize is a good helping of criticisms I had of the work. You might be thinking, “Well, Rose, is there anything about this work that you DID like?”
Absolutely, and I have to give credit where credit’s due. The survival elements in this work are actually well noted, and I liked seeing how some of the remaining characters (survivors of a good helping of tragic events) grow in the course of the story. There are many harrowing/life changing scenarios to be had here. Their development in the beginning was very sparse and leaves much to be desired, but there was a level of growth as time went on and ultimately how Trinity grows into a young woman who looks toward the future with her new family and time, even if she’s saddened about what she’s left behind. I understood the impact this story meant to have and there were parts of it I did appreciate in the portrayal, but there were also many points where I felt it dropped the ball, and could’ve amounted to more than it provided.
So I have to say, in retrospect, “Crossing the Rubicon” is a bit of rollercoaster, for better and worse. I think there may be other readers who may be more forgiving of the story itself and what it ultimately aspires to say, as well as the overarching journey it takes you on, but I honestly think it could’ve been a better read with further development and a different approach to its narration.
Overall score: 1.5/5
Note: I recieved this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Smith Publicity.