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The Power of Un by Nancy Etchemendy Book Summary and Review

Updated on March 23, 2012
The Power of Un by Nancy Etchemendy
The Power of Un by Nancy Etchemendy

What if You Could Change Your Past?

The Power of Un is a science fiction book for young adults about middle-school aged Gib Finney and his dog-obsessed younger sister Roxy, who is six years old and a completely annoying little pest. This story unwinds a little slowly at first, but after about thirty pages, you will not want to put it down until you see how it ends.

It's the worst day of Gib Finney's life when a string of careless actions leads to tragic and unintended consequences. But its also Gib's lucky day, because he meets a mysterious, but weird-looking stranger in the woods who wants to help him change the past, even before he realizes the past needs changing. With the help of a strange-looking machine called an Unner, Gib prepares to change the past by travelling back in time. But changing the course of history is trickier than it appears, especially when the stakes are so high.

Gib Finney is a typical middle-school aged boy. He has an almost-crush on girl pal Lorraine, and a loyal best friend Ash. But he is also pestered by a six-year old sister who is obsessed by dogs. The story, told from the point of view of Gib, is cleverly crafted.

Some thoughts about The Power of Un

This science fiction story is only about 120 pages long, so it can be read in an evening. Author Nancy Etchemendy takes the reader by surprise by telling her story from Gib's point of view, which begins with careless self-interest. He wants to go to the carnival, have his fortune told, and ride the terrifying new ride that all of the kids have been talking about. His viewpoint is a little immature, even for a middle-schooler.

So when Gib eventually DOES make the biggest mistake of his life, as a reader I felt sickeningly-blindsided, and almost as desperate as Gib to see him change the past. This story is not for the faint of heart, and reader be-warned, this story depicts a tragic experience with a high emotional intensity quotient.

Gib's passion to change the future and accept the consequences, no matter what, compels the reader to the end of this quirky book for teens. But in the meantime, Etchemendy manages to explore one of the age-old questions of the universe. To what degree are we masters of our own fate? Do small, seemingly-inconsequential actions have the potential to drastically change the course of our lives? Or are some events destined to happen, no matter how we choose to act?

For Gib, the answers to these questions mean the difference between life or death, and even the fate of humankind.

Explorations On Time Travel

This book for younger teens is a masterfully-crafted exploration of the subject of time travel. Etchemendy deserves kudos for giving the topic of time travel a four-dimensional feel in a two-dimensional genre. The story follows Gib through many threads of his own past and gives pause for further questions about the future.

I came away from the story questioning the familiar adage that hindsight can be 20-20. How can we really know that our actions would have made a significant difference? Sometimes, we think that after a tragedy occurs, if we could have made small changes to our actions, things would have been different. But do we really know this? Looking back on an event gives us a different viewpoint than looking forward into an unknown future, but does this knowledge make us better, smarter, or wiser?

The simple storyline probes into some deep philosophical and scientific areas with many theoretical possibilities.

Alternate Viewpoint

After I finished this story, my 14-year old daughter decided to pick up the story and read it too. Her expectations for the story showed a slightly jaded point of view. She felt the plot was a little too predictable for a book geared to middle-schoolers. Since I don't want to spoil the story for potential readers, I will let them decide for themselves.

I agree that several plot elements of the story were predictable, but this was a given for me as an adult reader of a children's story. However, I think the most compelling aspect of The Power of Un is the way the author transforms her protagonist's point of view as he relives the same tragedy over and over, with minor changes in the details. Gib's reaction to his experience transforms his own actions and causes him to make better choices in the end. For me, this is the power of Un.


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