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Literature / Voices After Midnight

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Richard Peck, a young adult author better known for his quirky, supernatural series set in a small Midwestern town in the early 1900's starring Alexander Arnsworth and Breakout Character Blossom Culp (The Ghost Belonged to Me, Ghosts I Have Been, The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp, and Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death), also wrote this stand-alone supernatural Time Travel mystery set in the (then modern-day) 80's.

When Chad, his little brother Luke, and his older sister Heidi take a two-week summer vacation to New York City so their father can do some work at his company's Manhattan offices, none of them have any inkling the trip will be anything other than a chance to be tourists in the Big Apple—except perhaps Luke, who is something of an Oracular Urchin when it comes to history and other times. But since this is a children's adventure story, of course they find themselves to be a Weirdness Magnet.

The century-old townhouse their father's firm rented is haunted—not by ghosts, but by memories of a past tragedy which echo across time as dreams and voices after midnight. Before Chad knows it, he and his little brother (and eventually their sister as well) are slipping back and forth through cracks in time, back to the household of the Dunlap family in the late 1800's. How they have this ability or why, they don't know—only that the Dunlap children, Tyler and Emily, need their help. And whatever dangers there may be, even of becoming Trapped in the Past, they are honorbound to answer their calls.

This book provides examples of:

  • Alternate Timeline: This would seem to be the only explanation for the book's Mind Screw ending, short of a Temporal Paradox or Stable Time Loop: since there doesn't seem any way the kids could exist before time traveling if their family was always a descendant of the Dunlaps, it would seem that saving Tyler and Emily created a new timeline in which the Dunlaps were incorporated into their family tree—perhaps as a reward for their heroic efforts.
  • Brick Joke: At one point when Chad asks Luke how he knows so much about Time Travel and seeing into other time periods, the latter describes having gone down into the family's basement utility room, only to discover a Native American woman walking through a grassy, rocky area where a trail once existed. Much later, after Heidi has given them critical aid in rescuing Tyler and Emily, Chad asks her if she'd ever had "unusual experiences", only for her to say she also had gone down to the utility room as a little girl to watch the Native Americans "but I don't think that counts."
    Chad: Why am I always the last to know anything?
  • Can't Take Anything with You: Curiously inverted—while the kids can't bring anything back from the past when they visit it, the dress Heidi wears to the ball to become visible is able to go back with her. And as a result, one of her shoes is also physically present to be left behind.
  • Chekhov's Gun: While there are a number of small things which end up coming back with larger importance later (Mrs. Dunlap's Tiffany pin she was given for Christmas, the old hobby horse and dress in the attic, the crocus bouquet, the dead birds), the biggest one has to be the house's old phone booth which was once an elevator since it turns out to be where Tyler and Emily were trapped and froze to death during the storm when the power went out.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Miss Hazeltine. What at first seems to be just a weird and crotchety neighbor is soon revealed by Luke to be the young woman he and Chad see through the attic window when they are briefly in 1928. But then, when they visit her apartment just before the climax in search of information, it's revealed thanks to an old photograph that her unmarried aunt was Mamie Vanderdonk, which in turn reveals that Tyler never married her because he died.
    • Pegeen the chambermaid. She's the first person from the past (other than Emily, who's only viewed on the front stoop) the boys "meet" (in fact they have to avoid being stepped on by her as she brings the tea service). Not only do her family and friends live homeless in the trench in Central Park, leading Emily and Mamie to make charitable visits with food, but after history is changed she marries Tyler, thus producing the kids' paternal great-grandmother.
  • Chekhov's Time Travel: The only reason the kids have the ability to slip back into other time periods is because such an ability is the only way they can Set Right What Once Went Wrong, and Luke says as much at one point.
  • The Constant: Because New York City is such an old city, to an extent a great deal of the buildings and landmarks in the story are still there in the past as well. But the most critical example is, of course, the Dunlap townhouse itself, since there would otherwise be no means by which the kids could save the day. Also, within the house, while all the rest of the decor and architecture change to reflect the time period, the one thing which never changes is the phone booth/elevator. This is significant.
  • Contrived Coincidence: As the kids' dad says at the end, "Twelve million people in New York, and we end up in the house of long-lost cousins? Who'd believe it?" Unless, of course, they were always intended to go there so as to go back in time. Or had to to save themselves as well.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Variation, Miss Hazeltine is a Crazy Dog Lady, who can flip from threatening to release her Dobermans Fiona and Xerxes on you or calling the cops to inviting you into her home for butter brickle ice cream.
  • Culture Clash: The kids, being from California, have a bit of this when it comes to getting used to life in the Big Apple, whether it's walking everywhere rather than riding in a car, having to follow the Pooper Scooper law for their dog, adapting to the local grocery markets, meeting Jocelyn, or learning about New York neighbors.
  • Dances and Balls: The New Year's Eve gala at the Ebersole mansion is a major centerpiece scene and quite critical to the book, as it turns out, as it not only solves several mysteries from the past, it's how Heidi is able to meet Tyler Dunlap—without which she never would have been trusted so as to aid in the rescue of him and his sister.
  • Dead Guy Junior: At the end of the book, the kids get to meet a present-day Tyler Dunlap who is this twice over—not only does he have the 1800's Tyler's name, his middle name is Jeremiah, the same as the first Tyler's father. (And for that matter, the present-day Mr. Dunlap is named Jerry, which could also be short for Jeremiah.) While he apparently is not an Identical Grandson, he's just as hunky and dreamy as his namesake, as far as Heidi is concerned.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: Played with. When the kids return the final time from the past and saving Tyler and Emily, nothing about the house seems to have changed, other than it feeling warm, lived-in, and loved rather than cold and empty, and since Heidi had to return the dress to the chest in the attic, it must not have appeared any different at the time or she'd have said otherwise. It isn't till a week later, when it's time for the family to return to California, that the present-day Dunlaps show up and the boys go upstairs with Tyler to discover the old, abandoned floors have changed—but since all of them had avoided the upstairs for the rest of their stay, there's no telling exactly when the change in the timeline took place.
  • Double Don't Know: Happens a good number of times whenever Chad is trying to understand either the Time Travel aspects or what they learn and witness in the past.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Before the family makes the trip to Manhattan, both Chad and Luke dream of snow. Once they actually arrive at the townhouse, the trope is played with in that what they dream is actually of the past, not the future—except since some of the events are ones they will eventually experience through their Time Travel, it's still in a sense dreaming of what is to come. One dream Chad experiences is of the ball at the Ebersole mansion, but because he has yet to visit the actual event, his expectations color it so that the interior does not at all match the reality, and neither do how he envisions Mamie and Consuelo. Interestingly, the one dream that does actually predict the future is the strange sit-com based dream in which their dad talks about the weather "looking like California out there" and inviting them all on a family outing, something that happens for real the very next morning.
  • Dream Reality Check: The first time the boys end up in the 1800's, witnessing Pegeen opening the door for Emily and Mrs. Dunlap, Chad not only looks down at himself and his modern clothes, he starts doing the usual things to prove he was awake "like biting the inside of my cheek."
  • Drives Like Crazy: Heidi, as demonstrated in a hilarious scene in the very first chapter. Not only does she need to be told how to go into just about every gear, but when her friend's mother is on the way home and they have to rush to get back to their place, she manages to sail right off the curving drive, down the lawn, between two trees, and into the neighbors' flower bed. She then manages to somehow drive right back through her previous tracks, just miss hitting her friend, and gun for home so fast Luke ends up doing somersaults in the back seat until he braces himself with both feet.
  • Easing into the Adventure: The first chapter just mentioned is a form of this, since it does a great job of acquainting the reader with each of the kids' personalities and how they relate to one another—boy-crazy Heidi, sensible Chad, and weird Luke. It even eases into the adventure in another sense, since the visit to the "witch-woman's" house allows Chad and Luke to briefly enter a Gold Rush prospector's cabin as a sort of test-run of their time-traveling abilities.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Not evil, but the supernatural variation—Al, the family's purebred pug, is able to sense right away that something is off about the townhouse, taking refuge in Chad's bed and never wanting to stay inside for long, especially alone. She's also able to sense and even see many of the strange happenings, such as the Revolutionary soldiers the boys see in the park. This is actually an important plot point since it's Al who discovers Tyler and Emily trapped in the elevator and brings Heidi to help rescue them.
  • Field Trip to the Past: Downplayed, but in the process of figuring out why they keep finding themselves in the 1800's, the kids have to learn a fair amount about New York City of the time, although most of the knowledge in question comes from simply watching/listening to conversations in the past, with only one visit to Miss Hazeltine and another to the library to fill in the right gaps. And Luke has so much general knowledge of history (he exposits on the War of 1812, the Revolutionary War, and even ancient Egypt) that to an extent it isn't needed very much.
  • First-Person Smartass: Being as it's a young adult book, the smartassery isn't too blunt, but Chad is quite good at snarking—usually at the expense of his older sister or his little brother's uncanny abilities. Though he doesn't hesitate to mock certain aspects of New York life (or California's), or 80's pop-culture in general.
  • Foreshadowing: All over the place.
    • When it's clear she won't get to stay behind with her friend Melissa, Chad suggests that Heidi may meet a guy in New York.
    • At his first sight of the townhouse, Chad observes the curtained windows of the first three floors but can't recall later if he ever looked higher to see if those floors too were lived in.
    • One of the very first things Chad notices in the house which still dates to the past is the phone booth/elevator. Not only that, when he decides to take a ride in it while they're in the past, he takes time to note that unless the edge is exactly even with the floor, the doors won't open, and Luke doesn't have a very good feeling about being in it.
    • The crocus bouquet dissolving into dust "like looking into a coffin".
    • At one point when the boys are in Emily's room, they discover she was reading the John Greenleaf Whittier book Snow-Bound.
    • When she comes in to announce Christmas dinner, Pegeen gives a quick look to Tyler and then quickly averts her eyes, indicating the feelings that will lead her to marry him after his life is saved.
    • Similarly, when Chad sees Emily at the ball dancing with the Duke of Castleberry, the latter is described as far from bored, with his monocle "practically sending out sparks." She of course marries him after her life is saved.
    • Mamie's aiding the homeless in Central Park with Emily, and her clear desire to help those less fortunate in general, makes her eventual founding of Hunter College's School of Social Work no surprise.
    • Early on, Chad worriedly wonders what might happen if any of them get stuck in the past and can't make it back. This actually does happen to Heidi for a while after the Ebersole ball.
    • Between the bouquet in her room, finding the dress in the attic, and all of her teen romance novels, it's just as easy as Luke observes it to guess that the "real romance" Heidi ends up having is with Tyler.
    • For anyone who knows their history (but didn't read the back cover blurb), the minute it's revealed that the boys are at the Christmas of 1887 it should be obvious that all the cold and snow imagery is pointing to a tragedy related to the blizzard of 1888.
  • Glass Slipper: Parodied. When Heidi flees the Ebersole ball and Tyler chases after her, she loses one of her shoes and leaves it behind on the mansion steps...but it's a Reebok, so he merely stares at in utter confusion before tossing it aside.
  • Goth: Jocelyn, the daughter of a college friend of the kids' mom, is that rarer form found in fiction, a Gloomy Goth who doesn't have a Freudian Excuse or other tragic reasoning behind her tastes but just happens to be this way—though she is Played for Laughs a bit, albeit more as part of the overall Culture Clash and Heidi's reactions to her than by being a black sheep. That said, it's implied she is doing it as something of a rebellion against her real-estate agent mother, and Heidi later says she's just a fashion victim. In any case, her presence in the book does give Heidi an outlet to try and (futilely) escape the time-slips when she adopts Jocelyn's look, and it also makes for a number of fun moments when Chad accidentally mistakes either Jocelyn or Heidi for a ghost.
  • Grandfather Paradox: Inverted, as it turns out. Altering the past to save the Dunlap family line is the only way the kids could have time traveled in the first place, since they would not have existed unless they did travel back. Maybe. Or maybe not.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: When Heidi actually tries to deny that she had traveled back to the Ebersole ball ("I wasn't out anywhere...last night."), Chad uses quick thinking and a rapid-fire reply to trick her.
    Chad: For one thing, what did you do with the dress?
    Heidi: I put it back in the trunk. I mean, what dress?
  • In Spite of a Nail: Regardless whether the Time Travel shenanigans created a Stable Time Loop, branched off an Alternate Timeline, or resolved a Temporal / Grandfather Paradox, the world that results seems to follow this principle. Since, other than the obvious saving of Tyler and Emily and whom they each marry (in the latter's case leading to a fine home and gardens in England), nothing else about the world seems to have changed.
  • Intangible Time Travel: Played with. It's never made clear if the kids are truly intangible when they travel to the past—the one time they're almost stepped on by Pegeen, it's entirely possible they were lucky enough to roll out of the way of her feet in time, and every other time they are careful to step well out of anyone's way. If they are, it's clear it's only in terms of things and people in the past being able to touch them, since they can touch other things, like doors and books, just fine. Or the elevator dome, and its controls. What they definitely are, however, is invisible when time traveling. Except for Heidi, when she wears the vintage dress.
  • Law of Time Travel Coincidences: Although the kids slip in and out of various time periods throughout the story, the main one they visit in the time of the Dunlaps is during the Great Blizzard of 1888. Downplayed, and even a bit subverted, however, in that not only does it take them several tries to zero in on the right period, the whole reason they are traveling back (at the behest of the house, it seems) is to Set Right What Once Went Wrong one tragic aspect of the disaster. So while they weren't there to avert the overarching doom, and in fact didn't even intend to visit the past at all let alone that specific event, they wouldn't have time-traveled if not for the storm. And finally, the snowstorm of 1888 is not a particularly well-known and famous disaster anymore, and would not have been to kids from California, either, so isn't exactly one that would immediately jump to mind as likely to happen during a Time Travel visit.
  • Love Triangle: One of these is set up almost as soon as the boys first make it back to the 1800's, between Tyler, Consuelo Ebersole, and Mamie Vanderdonk. Then it briefly becomes a quadrangle when Heidi enters the mix. Amusingly, in the end none of these girls ends up with Tyler, since he marries Pegeen instead.
  • Masquerade Ball: Chad has a dream where the Ebersole New Year's ball is depicted in this fashion. It quickly turns into a chilling nightmare, however.
  • Mind Screw: The kids use their Time Travel ability to save the lives of Tyler and Emily, thus changing history and restoring the Dunlap line. But then at the very end, they discover that somehow the Dunlap family is also theirs, via a rebellious daughter of Tyler and Pegeen's. Did they create an Alternate Timeline to make this possible? Were they always intended to go to the past and thus simply closed a Stable Time Loop? Did time shift around them to prevent a paradox? Is the reason they had those abilities because they couldn't save their own existence without them? In the end, no definitive explanation is given, but the only thing that is clear is that the change happened after their travels and was not always the case, since their father doesn't remember his grandmother's maiden name being Dunlap, and doesn't check the family Bible until after they get home.
    Luke: It's a good thing for us we came along.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: Downplayed, but when Chad finds himself in the 1800's their first night in New York, he peers out the window to see a horse-drawn cart and a milkman with old-fashioned cans. The next time he and Luke are both in the period, Pegeen's maid outfit and the bustled dresses Emily and her mother wear identify the time even more.
  • My Own Grampa: While obviously the full implications of the trope would not be addressed in a YA novel, it is touched on in the end when Chad realizes that Heidi had a crush on her own great-great grandfather and Luke observes that Emily is Chad's aunt three times removed.
  • Newspaper Dating: Peck does a rather ingenious job of playing with the trope while still finding ways to identify dates and time periods, both for the characters and the reader.
    • After seeing the scaffolding of the Carlyle Hotel, the boys examine the plaque in the present-day building to learn when it was completed, thus telling them what time period they had briefly been in.
    • When the kids go upstairs in the apartment Jocelyn's mother is showing off and discover Old Man Pendleton still there, Luke uses the fact he mentions it being cold for May (when it's actually June, and warm) to figure out the tenant had just died a month ago.
    • At the Dunlaps' Christmas gathering, there are strings of paper letters wishing a happy holiday and a prosperous 1888, finally letting the boys pin down the year; a bit later, Tyler extends the Ebersoles' invitation to the family, also making note of the new year's date.
    • In a chilling and dark variation, in one of Chad and Luke's dreams they see Tyler and Emily's gravestones, thus giving the boys their date of death.
    • Ironically, the only time a newspaper enters into it is when the boys go to the library and use the microfiche reader to find out what happened on the day Tyler and Emily died, so they can figure out where they are and how to save them; it's not knowing what year they're in itself that matters, but the specific events they're visiting (in particular, the elevated trains telescoping, which lets them know they're on the right day). Also ironically, despite Mr. Dunlap being a newspaperman, it isn't his paper they learn this from but the New York Times.
  • New York Is Only Manhattan: While the kids and their parents do go on a train/boat tour late in the book that takes them past Brooklyn and a few other locales, the entirety of their stay in New York takes place in Manhattan, with the townhouse located at East Seventy-third Street and a number of famous locations nearby (Central Park, Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue) either name-dropped or actually visited. Justified, however, by the fact the kids' dad works for an advertising agency that has offices located there and that only such a location would have the sort of townhouse needed for the story.
  • No Full Name Given: Something of an odd example for Peck, as the last names of both Alexander and Blossom's families (and a number of others as well) are known right from the start of that series. But here, not only do the kids have Unnamed Parents, only ever referred to (whether in dialogue or narrative) as Mom and Dad, but the kids themselves are only known as Heidi, Chad, and Luke. By contrast, the reader gets to know the whole Dunlap family by name (the parents being Jeremiah and Leonora), which as noted on the trope page is unusual for American families before 1900. One might think this is to help conceal the book's Twist Ending...except the kids' dad specifically says Alicia Dunlap MacPherson was his mother's mother, so neither he nor any of them would bear the Dunlap name. So other than the fact the Dunlaps are the ones being saved and the kids are merely the vehicle for it, the namelessness is left unexplained.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: As Luke himself says, "Everything that ever happened is still going on, inside us." Chad describes it as parallel universes which Luke more or less agrees with, so it is less actually traveling to a different time and more like slipping through cracks between the present world and the past one that is always around them. (This is best shown in the scene when they race from the park back to the Dunlap house for Christmas Day, and Chad finds himself seeing, hearing, and smelling both the present and the past all around him, occupying the same space.) Usually this works through the trope below, but if they are in the right headspace, thinking of the period or clearing their minds of thought at all, they can walk right back into the past anywhere, anytime, or simply gaze into it as through a "window". Regardless how they get there, they are invisible and maybe intangible, only able to witness except for at key moments (or for Heidi, when she wears the dress from the attic).
  • Portal to the Past: Literally, as the most consistent and common way the kids have of getting from one time period to another is by opening a door—usually in the townhouse, but once it occurs when they use the elevator in Old Man Pendleton's apartment.
  • Product Placement: One might wonder if Peck was being paid for the privilege, since the sheer number of name brands in fashion, music, books, vehicle makes, films and TV shows, and more that he includes is a bit dizzying. That said, the vast majority seem included to be, as one children's book reviewer put it, "topical references and slyly humorous send-ups of trendy teens," and all are employed by Chad either as part of the ongoing Culture Clash or out of snark and mockery (usually at Heidi's expense). Regardless, he clearly was having fun with it, and while it does date the book a bit, it comes across more as an affectionate 80's Pastiche.
  • Real Dreams are Weirder: The one dream Chad has which isn't related to his 1800's adventures hilariously involves his whole family as an even greater slice of Californian suburbia, with each of them as a character from a different 80's TV sitcom (Growing Pains, The Wonder Years, Newhart, and Kate & Allie, respectively), complete with Laugh Track and Enforced Plug. (Amusingly, it's one of the few times Peck doesn't drop a brand name.) That said, see Dreaming of Things to Come above in how this dream manages to be Five-Second Foreshadowing of something their dad actually says in the waking world, and how even the Masquerade Ball dream is weird rather than truly predictive since it includes only Chad's preconceptions and information he's received to date from his glimpses of the past.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: The rare inversion where it is one man and two women—Tyler Dunlap vying for the hands of both Consuelo Ebersole and Mamie Vanderdonk. Also a variation in that it isn't even clear he's interested in either of them, as he seems to be pursuing the heiress rather perfunctorily (the bouquet's "With Respectful Affection" message could be interpreted as either this or formality due to the Ebersoles' station) and, according to Emily at least, Tyler barely seems to realize Mamie has feelings for him. In fact, it is Emily who is pushing for the poor suitor, rather than Tyler or Mamie herself. In the original timeline, he ends up picking neither due to his untimely death (and Consuelo herself later dies on the Hindenburg); things take an amusing turn when all of this gets derailed (but still follows the trope) by the modern-day, middle-class Heidi using the vintage dress to catch Tyler's eye. And in the end, it's also moot but still follows the trope, since Tyler ends up marrying Pegeen the parlor maid.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Unsurprisingly, at the end of the adventure, all three kids not only remember everything that took place during it, but the original history and original state of the townhouse before the timeline changes.
  • Running Gag: Pegeen being "as slow as molasses", a comment first made by Mrs. Dunlap, recurs throughout the book, not only uttered by Luke but even Heidi in the end.
  • San Dimas Time: Possibly this is a consequence of what Luke says about everything that ever happened still going on inside us, but the kids only have a short span of time in which to find out what happened in 1888, then go back and avert or change it, before it is too late. This is best displayed by the fact that once they zero in on the right time period in the 1800's, every scene which takes place in the past (regardless of when the kids experience it) always occurs in chronological order for the Dunlaps; thus, it seems once they pass into the time period, time continues to move forward from there to the events' inevitable conclusion, and they won't get the chance to go back and try again.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Luke, by virtue of both his vocabulary and his insight into history and Time Travel, exemplifies such diction. At times he even lapses into Little Professor Dialog, although he has no problems using everyday speech when needed and he isn't above being a Deadpan Snarker on occasion, such as when he tells Chad the words he uses "are in the dictionary, alphabetized."
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The central theme of the book's Time Travel, of course—to go back and ensure that Tyler and Emily do not die in the blizzard of 1888. Though it turns out it may be a bit more than that, possibly.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Aside from the obvious research Peck put into the time period (class consciousness, fashions, historical families, New York landmarks and transportation—the Third Avenue Elevated Line, or El, was one of the more well-known lines in the city until its closure, although it did not actually telescope with another train during the storm), everything revealed about the Great Storm is accurate to history. Of particular note are the detail of people trying to cross the frozen East River, only to end up drifting away when the ice floe broke up, and the fact that the day of the week on which the kids finally go back and make their daring rescue is a Monday—and that is, in fact, what day March 12, 1888 fell on. (Although whatever year the kids are in, whether the publication year of 1989 or the actual 100th anniversary of the storm, the month in question is June, since it is a summer trip, it's noted at one point that the Fourth of July is approaching, and Luke references it when figuring out what month Old Man Pendleton must have died.)
    • The date given for the building of the Carlyle Hotel is also accurate, and while the Hunter College School of Social Work was founded well before 1888 (and not, of course, by Mamie), it does exist.
  • Significant Monogram: The crocus bouquet that Heidi finds in her room has a message on its ribbon identifying the giver as "T.D." Heidi at first believes it to be from a supposedly hunky guy named Thor Desmond that her friend Melissa told her about before leaving California. In the end, of course, it turns out to stand for Tyler Dunlap, and is a bouquet he originally gave to Consuelo Ebersole. Humorously, it can later be construed to stand for the present-day Tyler Dunlap whom Heidi gossips to Melissa about.
  • Snow Means Death: At first used in the metaphorical sense, when all the snow seen in and around the townhouse and the intense cold the kids feel seems to simply stand for the death of the house, the family, and the love and happiness that once filled it, as well as Tyler and Emily's deaths once it becomes clear they died before their time. (Tyler's frozen room with its crumbling bouquet testifies to it the most eloquently.) Then it is subverted for a while when the snow and cold simply add to the festivities of Christmas and New Year's, before of course eventually becoming quite literal in the form of the Great Storm.
  • Stable Time Loop: Another possible explanation for what the Time Travel adventures accomplish—that since the kids could not exist as modern-day descendants of the Dunlaps unless they went back in time and saved Tyler and Emily, them existing means they had to have already gone back, and always did.
  • Symbolism:
    • As another example of a Portal to the Past story involving actual doors, Luke notes when his touch is able to open the padlock for the door to the townhouse's upper floors that he "can unlock the past". He also describes how he shifts from one time to another as "lining up" a real door with "a door in his mind."
    • The phone booth elevator is fashioned with bars of brass that make it resemble a bird cage—it's a literal Gilded Cage. Which makes Emily describing it as a prison when she and Tyler are trapped there even more appropriate. It's also symbolic in a Black Humor fashion: the voices reaching out through the years to call for help are coming from what, in the future, would be a phone booth.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Played for Laughs, when Chad observes at the start of the book that once Heidi hit high school, their family changed from having "a mom, a dad, two brothers, and a sister" to "a mom, a dad, two brothers, and an alien." While she is sometimes portrayed as bossy or pushy, and definitely a bit reckless, she's actually fairly normal and tolerable despite her boy-crazy ways. And while at one point in the book she does seem to be turning to a life of rebellion and delinquency by modeling herself off of Jocelyn, in the end this turns out to be just her attempting to keep Tyler and the strange time-shifting events from taking over her life, and her mom has nothing to fear. Chad, of course, is quite reasonable and responsible, although at one point he does desperately try to claim the weird events happening around them are just the hormones of puberty.
  • Temporal Paradox: Assuming the adventure didn't create an Alternate Timeline, it may have occurred to avert this as well as Set Right What Once Went Wrong so that the kids, as descendants of the Dunlaps, could continue to exist.
  • Time-Travel Romance: Heidi ends up having one once she can't deny that she's living in a room shared by a very handsome and desirable young man from the past, enabled by the dress that lets her become visible and her knowledge from reading countless romance novels. Ironically, this gets revealed not too long before the book's climax, with the "romance" the reader actually knows about being Chad's feelings for Emily; by the end of the book, this seems to have been just an infatuation or crush.
  • Title Drop: Occurs when Chad hears Tyler and Emily on their first night in New York, though it's also referenced several times later by Luke.
  • Tragic Keepsake:
    • In a way, the crocus bouquet, since its frozen version is first seen as a token of romance by Heidi for someone she can never truly be with, only for it to later crumble into dust to stand for the passage of time and Tyler's death. And unless it was fated the kids would travel back in time, so that it would always be tossed away by Consuelo after she saw Tyler pursuing Heidi, it seems that even in the original timeline she would have rejected him, making it tragic.
    • Emily's childhood hobby horse, first seen moth-eaten and disintegrating in the dusty attic.
  • Trapped in the Past: Happens to Heidi in a disturbing and terrifying moment after the Ebersole ball, when by the time she makes it back to the townhouse, it's in ruins and she is forced to break in and fall asleep in her crumbled room, wishing only to die like everything else until she wakes up back in the present.
  • Twist Ending: While saving Tyler and Emily's lives makes it fairly unsurprising there would then be living Dunlaps in the present who still own the townhouse (and thus also change the building's upper floors), and whom Tyler ended up marrying is a bit unexpected unless the reader caught a bit of Foreshadowing, the final pages of the book drop The Reveal that the kids' family are distant descendants of the Dunlaps. As noted above, what this means about the Time Travel, how and why it happened, or what the temporal results were remains a mystery.
  • Unfinished Business: Oddly enough, it seems as if it is the house itself which this applies to. The voices of Tyler and Emily that the kids hear are only echoes of the past, not actual ghosts, and the only times the kids actually see them are as living people when they are time traveling/slipping (or in dreams, which may also be sendings of the house). Thus, it is the house that wishes Chad, Luke, and Heidi to save its family and theirs.
  • Valley Girl: Heidi, naturally. While she peppers her speech with plenty of "like"s, she also uses a great deal of cheesy, wince-worthy 80's slang. However, this doesn't create a problem in the past, as her knowledge of how the upper crust speak from reading so many romance novels allows her to "speak the language" (though there are a few accidental lapses where she has to quickly backtrack and cover for herself).
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Luke. Some of this comes from his intelligence, love of history and old things in general, and education/reading level, but a great deal also stems from what he absorbs through the "doors to the past" in his mind. At the same time, he also seems to have a pretty good understanding of people; he certainly pegs Chad and especially Heidi's motivations a lot of the time.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Played with. While the kids are in the past, time seems to pass the same way as it does in the present, since they appear to be gone for the same amount of time (if they go to the past in the morning and spend all day with the Dunlaps, when they come to the present in the afternoon it's just when their parents are coming home for the day). However, while they are in the present, much more time can pass in the past, as throughout the book events jump from fall, to Christmas, to New Year's, and finally to the Great Storm in March—all in the space of a single week in the present.
  • You Can See That, Right?: An interesting non-verbal form of this is used repeatedly by Luke, where he constantly looks to Chad (rather than outright asking him) to see if he is aware of the various images/windows to the past/historical figures that keep appearing to them. It's also a case where he's well aware of what's happening and does not need confirmation from someone else that they too can see it—instead he's confirming that Chad also has the ability to see it, i.e. that the Time Travel ability isn't limited just to him and more importantly that Chad accepts he has it, so he can do what needs to be done.
  • You Didn't See That: By contrast, not only does Chad refuse to admit for a while that what they're seeing is real by coming up with various excuses (optical illusions, hormonal imbalance, and historical re-enactors), he says the trope name as "we didn't see that" when they first view Tyler's frozen room through Heidi's door. Played for Laughs later when he also refuses to believe that they actually saw Heidi, in the dress, dancing with Tyler at the ball.