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Book Review: But Not Forever by Jan Von Schleh

Like most fifteen-year-olds, Sonnet McKay loves a good adventure, but when she, her siblings, and cousins discover a deserted Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods outside a deserted town near Seattle, they get much more than they bargained for. In an upstairs bedroom, Sonnet inadvertently steps inside a time travel portal and is whisked away to 1895. In her place stands Emma Sweetwine, an identical doppelganger for Sonnet. Emma’s family was a prominent family when Monte Cristo was a booming mine town, but life is not what it seems for the oldest of the Sweetwine children. With a mother who seems to despise her and a secret engagement, Emma’s life is oppressive and controlled–a sharp contrast to the spirited, independent Sonnet. With no idea how or why they were switched, Sonnet and Emma must quickly adjust to their new environments and rely only on their closest friends and family, but time is running out for the girls as both of their lives rush headlong in opposite directions. They must find a way back to their own times before their chance is gone forever. 

Family, both those of birth and those of choice, is a major theme of this novel. Sonnet has a close familial support system in her twin brother Evan, older sister Jules, cousin Niki, and best friend and cousin Lia. She has been surrounded by a loving family her entire life and spends part of each summer with her Aunt Kate, her father’s sister. Without doubt or hesitation, Evan, Jules, Niki, and Lia spring into action to both cover Sonnet’s absence and find the impossible path back to 1895. Rapp, a boy who has only known Sonnet for a day before her disappearance, is also a seamless part of the rescue brigade. The closeness of the teens is endearing and perhaps will inspire a nostalgia for that tight-knit feeling only present in adolescent friendship. This group instantly takes Emma into their embrace and makes her feel safe and loved, a first in her life. Though Sonnet has little help from Emma’s family, she quickly builds that friendship network she enjoys in her modern life. It is only with the support of Kerry, the sixteen-year-old Sweetwine family nanny; Maxwell, the teenage family driver; and Tor, Emma’s secret betrothed; that Sonnet will hatch an escape plan. Both groups vow to take care of each girl respectively and help them keep the faith to make all things possible. 

The difference between Sonnet and Emma will highlight the struggle and growth of women in the world. Sonnet isn’t burdened by the many stifling rules, both spoken and unspoken, that Emma must endure. Emma is forced to hide her true self, her true feelings, none so much as those she has for Tor. As an immigrant tasked with a life of menial labor, Tor should never be a part of Emma’s social circle much less her fiance. She has no close female friends and must remain docile and meek even when her mother demeans and abuses her. She is stifled by all who should love and support her. Sonnet, with her modern mind and outspoken nature, fights all of those restrictions and leaves Emma’s life better. Sonnet makes Emma stronger, and Emma teaches Sonnet how to appreciate the love in her life. In the very oppression, Sonnet finds the enjoyment of her freedom, and Emma’s liberation will create a connection to Sonnet that she can’t even imagine. Sonnet and Emma are not the only female characters who highlight the advancement of women in society. Kerry, the teenage nanny of the Sweetwine family, has an extraordinary story as well. After journeying alone from Ireland at the age of twelve, Kerry has created her own place. As a trusted servant, she cares for Emma’s younger brothers, Jacob and Miles, as well as Emma on occasion even though they are only one year apart in age. Kerry has the courage to secretly help Sonnet though, if discovered, she could lose her position. She gains Sonnet’s admiration and quickly reveals herself as a capable confidante in Sonnet’s escape back to 2015. Kerry also has the courage to dream of a better life and the ingenuity to make it happen. She, too, will later become a vital part of Sonnet’s future as well as an inspiration for her. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.