Publisher: Puffin (December 1, 1995)
People: I’m sick. Seriously sick. I’m sitting on the couch sniffling all over everything, hacking up a lung, and praying that this cold medicine kicks in soon. In the meantime, you know what all this free time of mine means right? Another review! Let’s just call it a make up for yesterday and leave it at that. So today’s review is of a book that I read first when I was 15. I remember it being mind-blowing and fantastically written even then so when I decided to reread it last week, I was pleasantly surprised to see that 15 year old me did not lead 29 year old me astray. It is mind-blowing and fantastically written. And the story is so simple that I want to smack my own forehead for not coming up with it first (in much the same way I read the Sandman comics and kick myself for not having the great forethought to write them before Neil Gaiman).
Identical twins Harry and Barry Krasner are as different as night and day. And given that they are twins with completely different personalities, they are highly competitive. At 16, they are dragged off to Sushan, IL when their reclusive great-uncle dies and all of his worldly possessions (including one creeptastic old house) fall to their mother. Inside the big, rambling house, the twins discover that Uncle Ambrose is beyond eccentric: he has a collection of skeletons that showcase creatures that don’t exist (think lizards with 8 legs and enormous rats) and other bizarre artifacts that the twins can’t fathom. They chock up his fascination with these things to the fact that he was a virtual shut-in at the end of his life. When they begin to explore their new home, Harry and Barry discover a reinforced steel outhouse dubbed, “The Playroom”. Through some harmless experimentation they quickly realize that time passes much more quickly inside this playroom than it does outside and it helps explain the eccentric nature of their uncle and his collections. When their pretty neighbor Lucy enters their lives, the brothers’ competitive nature is unleashed and Harry makes the rash choice to enter the playroom and age more quickly thereby freeing himself from his twin forever. When the playroom is ultimately destroyed, Harry’s choice alters his life and his relationship with Barry in ways he could never conceive.
Cutesy twin names like Harry and Barry aside, this book is off the charts AMAZING! As Ellen would call it, it’s AMAZEBALLS! Stop reading this review right now (even though the review hasn’t technically started) and go get it. Stat. William Sleator is a genius who uses something as simple as a playroom that alters time to comment on the nature of siblings and the need for one’s unique identity. As the story begins, Harry is tired of being the meek twin. Tired of being the twin that is flabby and unnoticed while louder, more boisterous jock Barry is the life of any party. Harry is through with Barry getting the girl and in their new life, Harry sees this dichotomy between them replaying itself over and over. When cute neighbor Lucy picks Barry over him, he makes up his mind to quit being the same old Harry and to finally become the twin that people notice. So Harry does the only thing he can think of that will definitively break the link he has with Barry: he enters the time altering playroom in order to age himself so the twins no longer resemble one another. In doing so, Harry finally becomes the twin who acts and his personality is transformed through his experience. It is amazing to watch his character grow and mature over such a short amount of time. Believe me at 176 pages, this book is one quick read but watching the evolution of Harry’s character feels so realistic that you don’t notice the shortness. As I’ve mentioned countless times before, my main focus in any YA book is the evolution of the main characters and in Singularity, we get this in spades. Harry not only matures mentally through his time in the playroom but also physically as tangible proof that he is no longer the quiet, unassuming Harry of the book’s beginning. If only we could all be so lucky as to find some time portal that allows all our life-altering experiences to show so visibly on our skin. But I guess that’s why we have tattoos.
Based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the hero: 10. Harry really bugged me at first because come on! We can all see you’re living in Barry’s shadow and that you want to do something about it. But when he does, it is so worth the wait. Forcing yourself to stay in a time altering room in order to age a year more than your tool of a twin? Priceless.
How much did I like the love interest: Doesn’t really apply here so…new category!
How much did I hate the brother: 10 (that’s a 10 for hatred) OMG! I hate the name Barry. Ever since Rachel on Friends was dumped by a douchebag dentist named Barry, I’ve hated that name. And the whole rhyming name thing! Ugh. Plus twins in general creep me out and make me feel weird that I don’t have my own doppelganger running around behind me. This guy gets a solid 10 of hatred since he is such a perpetual jerk to his brother.
How believable is the plot: 10. Time altering portals seem really far fetched, don’t they? But here it works and is completely believable. The writing is kind of sparse meaning that we have very few descriptions but what we do get heightens the weirdness and tension between Barry and Harry, and the two boys and their surroundings. You can really see two brothers resenting each other so much that they want to completely change and be free of one another especially if they were put in matching sailor suit costumes for most of their young lives.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. William Sleator has gotten a lot of flak recently for the dip in his writing style. Here however he is pitch perfect. The pacing is so tight that you feel tense and want to know what’s going to happen as quickly as possible. Dialogue is very natural and the characters are highly believable.
How much did I want to keep reading: 10. I’m giving it a 10 because great books get a 10 but honestly, at the end, there’s not really much more to say about Harry and Barry. I wanted to find out how people react to Harry now appearing a year older than Barry or how their relationship suffers from his choice but otherwise, the story as it stands felt complete.
Final Score: 10 / 10. There’s absolutely no romance but you won’t care because it’s that good!