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“Don’t dream of a different life, Al. Love the one you’ve got,” Grandpa Byron. –Time Traveling with a Hamster
Time Traveling with a Hamster
by Ross Welford
AR Test, Teaches About Culture
On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives two gifts: a hamster, and a letter from his dad who died four years ago. The letter points Al to a time machine, an unimpressive-looking zinc-tube-and-laptop contraption in the secret bunker of their old house. It also describes a mind-blowing mission: if Al can travel back to 1984 and stop a go-kart accident involving his dad as a twelve-year-old boy, then maybe he can alter the course of history—and prevent his dad’s death.
As Al soon discovers, whizzing back thirty years requires not only imagination and courage, but also garage break-ins, midnight rides on his grandpa’s mauve scooter, and even setting his school on fire. And through it all, he’s got to keep his hamster safe.
One of the best parts of the book is the relationship between Al and Grandpa Byron, who doesn’t think anyone should try to change time. Grandpa Byron says, “Life, Al, is such a wonderful gift that we should open our minds to every possible moment and cherish the memory of those moments. Because people change. Places change. Everything changes, but our memories do not. Accept life the way it is, Al. That’s the way to be happy.”
Despite Grandpa Byron’s advice, Al goes back in time several times and unintentionally makes his timeline change for the worst. When Al first meets his father, Pye, he is considering setting a cat on fire to prove he is friends with a group of bullies. Instead of being a sympathetic character, Pye is whiny and weak. While the story focuses on the father-son relationship, Al’s relationship with his father is underdeveloped. Instead, Al’s relationship with his grandfather is the central relationship. This relationship adds interest to the story because Grandpa Byron shares his Indian culture and his immigrant story.
Grandpa Byron tells Al, “Don’t dream of a different life, Al. Love the one you’ve got.” Despite this, the conclusion shows Al changing time and saving his father’s life. The conclusion is anticlimactic because after all the craziness of Al’s earlier time-traveling adventures, he ends up saving his father’s life by sending a note back into time. The ending also conflicts with the central theme.
The cover art and the title suggest that Time Traveling with a Hamster will be a fun romp through time. However, the story’s themes — grief, blended families, and bullying — are more suited to older readers. Plus, the advanced vocabulary, the explanation of the theory of relativity, and the workings of time travel may be difficult to understand for some readers. While the story is full of adventure, the complicated plotline is, at times, difficult to follow. However, strong readers who want to explore the serious consequences of time travel will enjoy Time Traveling with a Hamster.
- Al asks his stepsister if she is a virgin. She says, “as it happens, yes, if that’s any of your business, of course I am. Jesus.”
- After Al’s father dies, his mother starts seeing a man named Steve. “The first time he stayed over at our house, I couldn’t sleep in case I would hear them, you know, doing it. But I don’t think they did.”
- Al thinks back to a time in the past. “Back in primary school Hector Houghman stabbed Conrad Wiley in the thigh with a compass, and he wasn’t punished at all because his mum came to school and said he had ADHD and that it was the school’s fault. . .”
- Al’s grandpa lived during a civil war. “When he was a kid, pretty much everyone in a family he knew, including a boy he played with, was murdered one night just because they were Muslim, or Hindus, or something.”
- A boy shoots a cat, and his friends were planning on setting the cat on fire, but Al stops them.
- A mean boy, Mecca, takes Al’s hamster. When Al tries to grab his hamster, the boy “shoves me away, then turns to grab me, one hand gripping my jacket and the other grabbing a handful of my hair. . .He practically picks me up and marches two or three steps up the grass bank before throwing me hard on the ground.”
- When Al tries to steal something, the shopkeeper “slaps me across my cheek with the full force of the large man he is. My head is jerked to one side with the strength of the blow.”
- Al sets a school on fire. “I’ve barely had time to stand up again and already the flames are surrounding me, getting hotter by the second. . .”
- Al changes time so his stepsister Carly no longer knows who he is. When Carly finds Al in her room, she freaks out. Carly’s friend, Jolyon, tries to grab Al. Al distracts Jolyon and then “I draw back my foot and deliver a swift, hard kick right between Jolyon’s legs. The sound he makes is horrible. . .I feel sorry for him as he keels over sideways, clutching his groin and retching.” Al gets away.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Al’s dad would sometimes tuck him into bed and “sometimes chat with [him], especially if he’d been drinking wine.”
- On New Year’s Eve, Steve got “a bit drunk.”
- Oh my Lordy is used as an exclamation once.
- Oh my God, God Almighty, and God are all used as an exclamation several times.
- Al reads a letter his mother wrote. The letter says, “Life’s a bitch.”
- Damnit and crap are used once.
- Twice, Al is told to “piss off.”
- Al comes downstairs in the morning, looking terrible. His grandpa sees him and says, “Oh my flippin’ Lordy. What happened to you?”
- Heck is used several times.
- Hell is used three times. A mean boy finds Al’s hamster. The boy asks, “How the hell can it be yours? Don’t be such a moron—it’s a rat with a deformed tail.”
- A man calls Al a “gaandu” which means ass.