“It’s just a neighborhood,” said Penelope with a shrug. “Lots of people live there.” “But these houses,” pressed Dill, “they’re beautiful estates with grounds and gardens?” “It’s not like that,” Penelope insisted. “All the houses are the same with small yards.” Dill stopped stirring for a moment. “And you want to go back?”
The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt is a very classic Girls Underground story, with a lot of fun elements, but ultimately a little too “clever” for my tastes, in that everything from the title to character and place names to major concepts are basically all puns on common phrases. The otherworld is the Realm of Possibility, the evil adversary who controls time is Chronos, if you get anxious there you break out in worry warts all over your face, etc.
Penelope, a middle school student, wants to be a writer but is trapped in a restrictive and boring existence by her mother’s insistence on doing everything on a precise schedule. Her mother is oblivious to her needs and her father is useless. Her only hope is her friend Miss Maddie, an older woman who lives in their neighborhood and allows Penelope to indulge a bit of well-earned idleness. When Penelope’s mother forgets to schedule anything for one day, Penelope escapes to Maddie’s house where she laments her recent inability to write or come up with new ideas (likely stifled by her mother’s attitude).
Unexpectedly, Penelope suddenly falls into a rabbit-hole like chasm created by the empty space of her day planner’s blank page, and finds herself in the Realm of Possibility. She meets an interesting denizen named Dill, who explains the dark history of the realm – a heroine called the Great Moodler (moodling is like letting your mind wander to come up with ideas) has been banished by the evil Chronos, who has turned everyone into Clockworkers to serve Time. With the help of Dill and a bird named Coo-Coo, Penelope must find the Great Moodler, save the Realm of Possibility, and hopefully in the process reinvigorate her own creativity.
On her adventures, Penelope falls into an underground dungeon, and navigates a labyrinthine passage, and also rescues one of her companions. In the end, she faces off against Chronos and breaks his hold on Time. Turns out, she had the power all along.
As the quote above illustrates, Penelope’s world is hardly attractive compared to the newly restored Realm, and as with many Girls Underground, one wonders (as Dill does) why she would even want to go back. But Penelope understands that her world, bound as it is by rules and structure, needs creative, free-thinking people like herself, more than the otherworld does.