Past Perfect

Leila Sales' second novel for young adults is a classic tale of summer romance and its discontents: girls who like boys and boys who like girls and how each side manages to mess it up in theatrical fashion until they get it right. But the difference between classic and cliché is all in the telling -- in this case, a sharp narrator and a remarkably engrossing setting do the trick.

Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Glaser works in the family business. Her parents, originally historians, toil as silversmiths in a Virginia tourist destination devoted to exact reenactments of life in an original Colonial village, complete with its own geeky code. Visitors are "moderners" subject to psychological torture when they say "bathroom" instead of "privy"; the worst possible slur is to be called a "farb" (shorthand for "far be it from authentic"). The contenders for Chelsea's summer affections include Ezra, her ex-boyfriend; Bryan, a fellow reenactor whose fear of farb is such that he refuses much-needed braces; and the new guy, Dan, whom Chelsea pegs, after one look at his "cutoff jeans, threadbare Sex Pistols T-shirt, messy hair and unopened copy of The Sun Also Rises," as a "music and book snob" -- exactly her type.

But when Chelsea's best friend laments that the two are "from different times and different worlds," she means it literally: Dan is a Civil War soldier from the arch-enemy village across the road -- the Biggie to their Tupac -- with which they have an escalating series of inventive, clever, and utterly entertaining hostilities. The romantic plot lines resolve themselves as one would predict, but you'll be left with some pretty amusing tips on how to take down a historical village via cell phone.

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

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