Ashley McConnell turns in another Quantum Leap novel, and except for a quick moment when we are given another limbo moment for Sam between leaps it is a really powerful tale about domestic abuse, alcoholism and breaking the cycle.
Sam leaps into Missy, a six-year-old girl (something that couldn’t have been pulled off believably in the series) in 1961 in Germany. The Wall is being built, and the threat of nuclear war is an ever-present reality.
Missy lives in apartment quarters with her brother Tom and their mother, Jane. Missy’s father, the Major, is on assignment, so everything falls to Jane to keep her family in line, keep a good impression with the other officers’ wives, and be prepared to respond to the air horn alert for evacuation.
Jane is having problems holding on, and those stressors culminate into abusing alcohol and physically and verbally hurting her children, even though she loves them desperately. Sam struggles to deal with the situation, which escalates when Project Quantum Leap’s observer, Al, informs Sam that both Tom and Jane die on the same day – Tom dies in a fire when he runs away, and Jane intentionally attempts suicide by swallowing a lot of pills and alcohol.
Can Sam save them both and is that all he’s there to do?
A second leap in the final pages of the book, as the wall is coming down, shows he has a little more to do.
McConnell has really fallen into the groove of being able to tell a Leap story, except for the limbo interludes, which should, I think be left to the imagination of the viewer or reader. Even when Sam has brushed up against the possibly supernatural or divine in the series, there are often rational explanations available as well. The tying in directly with some definitive higher power is a little offputting.
I do like how McConnell handles such tough subject matter, something Leap has done since its first season. I also love that Al and Sam can often work as opposing viewpoints to let fans see things from more than one perspective, and thus allow one to empathize with the characters that Sam is there to help.
This story wouldn’t have worked on the show without lots of oversized sets and visual effects, because we would see Missy as Sam, and the point of the story is that Missy is a child, a small child, and Scott Bakula when he played Sam wasn’t.
Of course, that also raises internal continuity errors about whether Sam’s presence there is physical and mental or just mental. Perhaps it depends on the leap and what is needed.
The next novel takes us back to before Project Quantum Leap got off the grounded and funded, it’s a look at how it all began. So I expect we’ll be joining Sam and Al on Project: Starbright when I dig into Quantum Leap: Prelude!