I've been intending to read Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series for a while now, so I was intrigued when my friend from Austin put Turnabout into my hands last week. Turnabout falls into the category of speculative fiction, bordering on science fiction. It's the story of two elderly women in the year 2000 who are given an experimental drug that causes them to age backwards. Alternating chapters of the story take place in 2085, as the two are re-entering adolescence, fearful of what will happen as they become children, unable to care for themselves.
This is the second book I've read this year that features reverse-aging, after Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere. The two books are quite different in their approaches. Turnabout is relatively scientific, with discussion of telomeres and their impact on aging. Because much of the book takes place in the 2085, Haddix speculates about privacy laws, auto-guided cars, and other futuristic issues. Elsewhere, by contrast, is about reverse aging after death, in a place separate from Earth, and reflects a less scientific approach (see my review here).
Turnabout addresses fascinating philosophical questions. What if when I neared the end of my life I could take some drug that would enable me to age backwards? Would I want to? What if as I aged backwards, I lost my memories of the corresponding years from my original forward life? Would I still want to do it? Would I be willing to give up memories of things that I had experienced? Would I be the same person if I didn't have my memories?
Then there are the pragmatic issues. The two women/girls vow to keep their reverse-aging a secret from the general public. This entails frequent relocation, not being able to contact their relatives, and particular challenges as they hit adolescence (again), such as no longer being old enough to drive. How can you marry someone if you're aging backwards and the other person is aging forwards? How could you possibly have children? What happens when you reach the date of your original birth?
Turnabout is in large part an examination of these issues. However, it also tells the compelling story of Melly and Anny Beth as they race against their own changing bodies to find someone who will care for them as they get younger. The two are reasonably well-drawn characters, with a closer relationship to one another than either has had with anyone else, best friends and de facto sisters. Each has her own unique reasons for wanting to live her second life to the fullest, and her own ghosts from the past to escape.
This is a fun read that will make the reader think a bit about science and aging, and what the future might be like. I look forward to reading Margaret Peterson Haddix's other books.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.