Into the Sideways World
By Ross Welford
Reviewed by Annaleise Byrd
British author Ross Welford, a former TV producer and self-proclaimed ‘magic nerd’ who performs his ‘Time Travelling Rope Trick’ during school visits, has written seven stand-alone middle grade science-fiction/fantasy novels. His titles include Time Travelling with a Hamster and The Dog Who Saved the World.
Into the Sideways World is set just a few years in the future—the main character, twelve-year-old Willa, refers to her grandfather dying in ‘the big pandemic’ when she was little. The opening chapter paints a bleak picture of this future world: World War Three is about to start, and Willa’s family home is filled with arguments and stress. When Willa meets Manny, a quirky new boy at school, they embark on a mission to photograph a mysterious animal that has been spotted in their town… and that ultimately leads them through a portal into an alternative version of their present day.
In this ‘sideways world’ (as in sideways in time), Willa discovers history diverged from that of our world in the 1960s. Humankind has since devoted itself to solving the big problems. In this ‘World Without War’, the ocean is bluer, hovering water-powered vehicles have replaced cars, and there are no mobile phones or internet. It is an alluring vision, and Willa longs to let her own world know what is possible. Of course, when she and Manny return home, no one believes them… so they travel back to the sideways world to obtain proof. In some of the novel’s most affecting scenes, Willa is helped by her older brother Alex, who died as a baby in the ‘real’ world. In the end, the race to return home before the portal closes is filled with drama, danger… and a heart-pounding dash to Edinburgh and back on an illegal flying jet-ski.
This is a well-written and deftly plotted story for confident readers aged 10+ who enjoy portal fantasies, time travel and ultimately hopeful stories. There is much to digest in this book, and our present world—like Willa and Manny’s—could do with being a lot more like the sideways world.