At first glance, Nicking Time appears to be a novel about friendship and growing up—an overdone theme, some might say, yet T. Traynor instills a vitality and refreshing youthfulness through her set of characters. Told by Midge, the story does not unfold through events, but sprawls out before the reader as the young narrator reflects on one particular summer from his childhood. What marks this summer as significant for Midge’s gang—Skooshie, Lemur, Bru, and Hector—is what comes at the end of it: change.
We know that it’s more than just an ordinary summer and that we’re expecting great things to happen. It has to be the best summer we’ve ever had because we’re all scared it’s going to be the last one. That at the end of it secondary school will swallow us up and make us different and everything might change between us.
It’s one thing to experience change the moment it hits, standing in the wake of sudden shock—life altered for better or worse. It’s a different experience to see that change coming ahead of time, and anxiety and excitement or fear fluster in a fit of stomach butterflies. Regardless of what lies ahead, so long as it’s seen beforehand, the remaining time between now and the future becomes precious. The boys sense a shift on the horizon coming to greet them, and they have every intention of making the most out of their summer vacation. With a list full of fun and adventure, their summer seems set, but is there enough time to do it all?
“So do we put ‘Invent Time Bank’ on the list of things we want to do this summer?” asks Skooshie.
“Might as well,” I say.
“OK,” says Hector, scribbling. “That’s number 7.”
“Read them out, Hector,” says Lemur.
“In no particular order—apart from the first one: Cathkin.”
“Even if we doing nothing else,” says Skooshie, “we do that. I would underline it, Hector, just so that’s clear.”
Hiding out in the cool shadow of their secret den, re-enacting battles, rolling in the grass, watching favorite TV shows, and playing the silly, normal games boys play make up the majority of Nicking Time. It largely consists of Midge and his friends adventuring, hopping from one activity to the next, and their plot to break into an rickety-old abandoned stadium. For most of the novel, little else happens, almost to the point where some might question a missing plot. For Traynor’s story to effectively work, to successfully convey Nicking Time’s theme, a defining moment needed to occur. Such a moment does occur, yet not in the way I first suspected, and it crosses the pages late into the story.
Nicking Time, as I said, appears to be a coming-of-age-like novel about childhood friendships. The keyword here is “appears.” Traynor’s novel remains, in certain ways, a story about five boys at the cusp of innocence, ready to enter their adolescent years. What I expected to sprout from this idea shares nothing in common with what the story does offer. As Midges says, “Some disappointment you just have to accept.”
Whether it involves fantasy elements, stays realistic, or even if it’s non-fiction, stories about childhood have always been one of my favorite type of stories to read. Many defining moments mark a person’s life, but more often than not, I find that childhood and leaving it behind can remain one of the more bittersweet tales to tell. Using Midge as her narrator, Traynor has written her book with the simplicity and naiveté of childhood ignorance. Nicking Time is cute, humorous, and most of all, I enjoyed it. However, by writing through Midge’s musings, there are instances of warning that foretell a possibly dark turn.
Perhaps I’ve seen and read too many similar stories that end tragically, or are characterized by uneasy tension. It’s possible, and it’s possible that I let these stories get the best of my expectations, because by the time Nicking Time makes that turn for change, I felt incredibly disappointed. Through all of Traynor’s hints, I suspected something terrible—that death, even—might strike down one of the boys. What better misery to crush one of their most memorable summers? But death awaits none of these boys, nor does anything equally or less tragic. Instead, the story takes on a surprising twist of paranormal nature.
For a mostly realistic but fictional novel, this paranormal twist felt as unsuspected as it is disjointing. At the same time, this aspect proves predictable. Once Traynor introduces this bizarre trait into the story, it’s difficult not to notice hints that the author has planted. By no means did I think Traynor would go do down this route at the beginning of story, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear. Compared to the places my imagination took me, the way in which Traynor concludes Nicking Time lacks spunk and the pulling of emotional heartstrings. Even if I hadn’t misinterpreted the author’s early tip-offs of what was to come, I greeted the paranormal development with an unwelcoming attitude. Rather than one, complete novel, Nicking Time feels like two different stories that collide. The result is not a smooth blending, but an awkward and brashly-concluded story.
Does this take away from the overall enjoyment of Traynor’s writing? In some ways, yes, but Nicking Time remains a likeable story. The narrator, Midge, is smart and funny—as are his friends and younger sister, Kit—and I cherish the moments they made me laugh.
We want to risk the gloom of the stand, lying back and staring up at the rusting roof. We want to walk over every bit of broken concrete, challenging each other to find and leap the most dangerous gaps. We want to be players, managers, spectators, villains, heroes. It’s the stage for so many possible adventures. It’s calling out and we’re the boys to answer it.
Thank you to NetGalley and Floris Books for providing a free copy of Nicking Time in exchange for my honest review.