When I was younger (early middle school, probably), there was a series of books by Caroline B. Cooney that I loved about a girl who went back in time and had romantic adventures with this guy from 1895. Ever since, I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for time travel stories, so I was excited to check out Time Between Us.
The story focuses on Anna, a teenager living in the Chicago suburbs in 1995. One morning she notices a boy watching her during her morning run around the Northwestern track, then learns he is a new student at her high school. She’s surprised when he doesn’t seem to recognize her, even though she is certain it was him at the track. The new guy, Bennett, is friendly enough, but as Anna tries to get to know him better, he starts exhibiting some rather unusual and flaky behavior. Come to find out, Bennett can teleport. And time travel. And he’s from 2012.
Apparently Bennett is visiting 1995 to try to find his sister, who he lost on a time travel excursion to a concert in 1994 by making the mistake of traveling before his own lifetime. He lost control and poofed back to 2012; his sister stayed in 1994; he can’t get back to 1994 because he wasn’t born yet so he’s hoping to find her a year later in the same place. But when Bennett meets Anna in 1995, he doesn’t know if he wants to go back to his real timeline. They have an instant connection; you know the drill.
It was interesting to me how little actual time travel happens in this book. More often it’s a case of Bennett taking Anna to Italy for a few hours, or maybe going back in time a day. Bennett has strict rules about his abilities in order to keep things from getting totally out of wack, and that keeps things pretty tame in the time travel department. On the bright side, it also makes it easy for readers to keep track of what’s going on. Time travel is a tricky subject – it’s hard to find the balance of keeping it reasonably logical without overdoing it with details that just make things more confusing. Bennett’s rules really help make it easy to follow, and there are reasonably logical explanations for the logistics and implications of his abilities.
Okay, so we’ve established there wasn’t as much going on that related to time travel as I was expecting. It was more of a contemporary romance type of story that just happened to have elements of time travel. That in itself was not a problem for me – I was still interested in what was happening and how Anna was handling her unusual relationship. I would have liked to have seen a little more time spent on developing Anna and Bennett’s relationship – it happened pretty quickly, which was great for moving the story along and providing time for more action, but it lowered the stakes a little for me in terms of the impact of the story overall.
That said, as the story progressed I started to buy into the relationship a bit more. Anna and Bennett dealt with some unusual obstacles and through those experiences I felt like they were making up a little bit for jumping into things initially. If nothing else, it kept me interested in the story regardless of what was happening with the plot as a whole. The pacing was pretty fast throughout the book, but did start to meander a bit toward the end. Having the core relationship to fall back on helped keep me engaged, and this book was a really quick read for me. I also loved the mid-1990s Chicago suburbs setting, since, well, I love the 90s and I love Chicago!
Time Between Us provides a bit of a problem with expectation. It isn’t necessarily an epic romance, which readers might be expecting based on its frequent comparisons to The Time Traveler’s Wife, nor is it a sci-fi adventure in the vein of other YA time travel books like Time Riders or Tempest. It really falls into a category of its own – it takes elements of romance and adventure, but pulls them together into a more quiet, subtle story. The tone actually reminded me quite an indie romance movie along the lines of Like Crazy…but with time travel. Keeping that in mind, Time Between Us is a unique and enjoyable read and I’m interested to see what debut author Stone comes up with next.