Patience Agbabi, The Infinite (The Leap Cycle)

Canongate, 2020, ISBN 978-1-78689-965-1

Elle is a Leapling: she was born on 29 February. Like some other Leaplings she has the Gift, the ability to leap forwards and backwards through time. 29 February 2020 is coming up. She will be twelve, or three in Leapling age. That day she will be setting off on her first school trip, a leap into 2048. She's excited about it, though also worried about how her lovely but infirm grandmother, who she lives with and supports, will cope. Worried too about meeting new people. Elle struggles with interactions with people she knows, let alone people she doesn't. Often she can't cope with school, where she is bullied. Her refuge is running, the one activity which enables her to zone out her anxieties. The prospect of being in a new place and time is frightening too. Her class has learned about the devastating impact of climate change on the future. And then there's the top secret Time Squad, which solves crimes committed across years rather than countries, crimes like killing someone in 2020 and hiding the body in 1960. The trip is to the Time Squad Centre, where they will encounter staff and students from other decades, and be involved in crime fighting. Elle has already had a deeply disturbing warning from the future on her mobile. Thankfully, she will have a friend with her. Ben has troubles of his own, but at least they understand each other.

The trip is indeed challenging in all sorts of ways, eating for example, because she can only tolerate food that is white. Getting to know new people is as difficult as she expected, but she and Ben gradually form friendships with Leaplings from decades in the past and the future. The group knows that young people have been disappearing, that there's a cover up, and that not all the teachers at the Time Squad Centre are to be trusted. They have to act fast. The world as they know it is in danger. How lucky that Elle's leaping ability is exceptional. Can she and her friends prevent disaster?

The Infinite is a highly impressive debut novel, of extraordinary inventiveness. Elle is a fabulous protagonist. How refreshing to have a female, autistic girl of colour as the hero, particularly as her autism is by no means the focus. Children will readily relate to her and they will thoroughly enjoy the fast moving adventure. Fortunately it's the first in a series.