A Multiple-Ending Adventure Through Time
The Lilac Tunnel: My Journey with Samantha
by Erin Falligant
Publication Date: August 28, 2014
Publisher: American Girl Publishing
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What would it be like for a girl to suddenly find herself in Samantha’s world at the start of the 20th century? When she meets Samantha for the first time, Samantha may tuck one leg behind the other and dip into a curtsy, the way girls did a very long time ago. But what other things might girls experience while exploring 1904? In this book, readers can join Samantha on a rustic adventure to her summer home in the mountains, get dressed up and attend a fancy dinner, and discover what life was like as a servant instead of a wealthy young lady.
The American Girl line of historical novels has recently had a reboot. Gone are the original classic covers, and the slim individual volumes have followed the old six-book collections into oblivion (as have the beautiful interior illustrations!). In their stead are bright, modern-looking covers, a new overarching title, BeForever, and an unillustrated collection reorganized into three volumes. As the press release goes: “Each character’s classic six-book series has been reformatted into two novel-length volumes, with the familiar stories that girls love.” The third volume is a new book, a BeForever Journey, featuring a girl from today traveling into the historic girl’s timeline and interacting with her. (Fear not – this isn’t The Lilac Time Tunnel ; American Girl has not gone sci-fi on us. Time traveling is accomplished not through advances in science, but through the mechanism of unspecified magic.)
One of the benefits of this reboot is that the stories (and dolls) of several of the older girls, like that of the first history girl, Samantha, have been un-retired and are back in print. But there is some controversy among fans over the updated covers of these books as they are not as historically accurate in terms of dress as the originals, nor are they, in my opinion, as evocative of the era to which they pertain. And the loss of the wonderful pictures inside each volume is truly unfortunate! The BeForever editions are shiny, lovely, and without a doubt, new-fashioned, and will look gorgeous together on the shelf, but a little atmosphere was lost in the translation from classic to modern.
An aspect that adds interest and excitement to the Journey volumes is that they are written as “multiple-ending” books. Those who were children in the 80s or 90s will recall the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” series; these books are similar, with the reader given options every so often that will have varying outcomes for the character.
In The Lilac Tunnel, the popping open of an antique locket transports the narrator to the world of 1904 and into the life of Samantha Parkington. Strangely, no one ever asks our narrator what her name is! In some paths, she’s mistaken for a servant girl and called Ruby, but in the others, she’s nameless. It’s a minor point but a failing nonetheless, as it makes the character seem less grounded and results in her always being called “dear” by her elders. It was likely done to keep the focus on Samantha, and to help the reader feel that she is the narrator going back in time. But we are given so many specifics of Unnamed Girl’s life (divorced parents, a clinging younger step-sister, a faraway best friend, a cat — the latter three all have names — and so on) that she is hardly a universal representative of pre-teen girls.
Still, the book is primarily about choosing options and experiencing a bygone era, and that’s where the fun starts! Curiously, the first path I chose was short and rather bland. I selected the options a good girl would, and wound up having a dull time of it. But when I returned to the first option and decided to tell a lie this time, life for Unnamed Girl became much harder, though far more interesting. As in real life, she learns more from her mistakes than otherwise, and when she returns to the present, the problems and limitations she had been grumbling about (such as her father’s restrictions on her lap top and cell phone use) seem less oppressive to her. The hardship she experienced in the past has taught her to better appreciate the life she has. At least, that’s how many of the endings work out; in some endings, Unnamed Girl still has a lot to learn. (I should point out that only a few of the choices were good girl vs. bad girl, and not all the good girl choices resulted in boring storylines.)
To those who have read the six Samantha books (and the four mysteries), many elements of The Lilac Tunnel will seem familiar: the trials of a young servant, the missing brooch, the dangers encountered, etc. But it’s fun to once again see good ol’ Uncle Gard and to spend a day or two at Piney Point. I would suggest reading the other Samantha books first so as to get a good grasp on the characters, and so that the plots in those books are allowed to surprise. And I definitely recommend making every possible choice, and thus reading through every option, including the one that sends the reader to a web address at AmericanGirl.com where the longest and most thorough ending occurs. It’s a clever way to bring girls to the site and engender interest in the other series.
— Jennifer Michelle
4 of 5 Hearts. A Multiple-Ending Adventure Through Time.
Though not quite as absorbing as the six original “classics”, partly because so much room has to be devoted to the alternate plot lines, this story set in Samantha’s world still holds one’s interest, clearly illuminating a particular time and place in 1904, and the divisions of class common to the day. The many paths the reader can opt to go down teach lessons about honesty, trust, and friendship, and remind us to count our blessings and stop taking them for granted. When we do, we realize like Unnamed Girl that we are much better off than we tend to think!