Title: Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone
Release date: October 9th 2012 by Hyperion
Age group: Young adult
Grade rate: A-
Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett has the unique ability to travel through time and space, which brings him into Anna’s life, and with him a new world of adventure and possibility. As their relationship deepens, the two face the reality that time may knock Bennett back to where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate, what consequences they can bear in order to stay together, and whether their love can stand the test of time.
I absolutely adored the premise of Time Between Us the second I heard it. Okay, so it is a little bit The Time Traveller’s Girlfriend, but it’s a confident and assured debut that promises more great things from its author in the future.
The year is 1995 and sixteen-year-old Anna just wants to see what lies beyond the confines of snowy Chicago. She wants to get out and see the world, but foreign travel is expensive, and unlike most of her private school friends, she doesn’t have that kind of money.
While Anna dreams of exploring new frontiers, Bennett is struggling just to stay in one place. He’s a time traveller and he should never even have crossed paths with Anna in the first place – but he’s stuck on the wrong timeline, searching desperately for something he’s lost.
Time Between Us is fabulously people-centric. The characters bring the story to life as if they’re the trunk of a tree, with the plot and setting merely notches in the bark and leaves on the branches around them. These are characters who are here to stay. They’re built from the ground up, most evidently in the case of our time-travelling hero Bennett. He instantly brought to mind Graham Larkin from This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith – whole-hearted, noble and just a little bit angry.
Anna’s long-time friend Justin is cut from similar cloth, but his distinct personality and love for music ensure we remember him far beyond the few scenes in which he gets a starring role. Anna’s dad is a surprisingly memorable and welcome addition to the cast, adding the kind of funny, comfortable, realistic parental presence some YA stories lack.
It’s unfortunate that the female leads of Time Between Us take longer to warm to. It’s rare to see a clear difference in the quality of characters running along the gender divide, but this is one occasion where the guys are definitely written better than the girls. Anna has all the makings of a great narrator – a desire to be independent, a lifelong dream, a passion that takes hard work and dedication, a strong sense of identity. I loved all those things about her, but she lacked the resonance that should have helped her cross the narrator-reader barrier. She felt very real to me, but she never inhabits the reader’s consciousness in the way that all the best young adult protagonists do. She changes her mind a lot, reacts to plot events in odd ways and at some points becomes very demanding, manipulating those around her, especially Bennett - for example, forcing him to time-travel and change past events with her, even though taking such a risk would come at great personal cost to the boy she’s supposed to be in love with.
Emma is even worse. I love best friend characters in books, but Emma’s so entirely false I just couldn’t bring myself to like her. She’s brash and catty, often hateful as well as hurtful, and I just didn’t see what she brought to the book, besides a shiny car to ferry Anna to and from their high school in. Among some of the other school-based characters, too, there was a lack of true friendship – I found myself wishing Anna and Justin could hang out more to his full, true best friend potential.
Once you move past the stereotypical high school environment, however, the other locations are fantastic. From rock-climbing in a nearby state to the beaches of La Paz and the remote villages of Italy, Time Between Us is an incredibly visual story, easily lending itself to scenes of adventure as well as romance.
And with a romance like this, of course, comes the ever-present issue of insta-love. It’s more forgivable here as it comes hand in hand with the rather exclusive problem of one or both parties of the relationship knowing each other from a different time, place or life path, giving the author double the plot fiends to deal with. I would have liked to have seen a more incisive style of romance between Anna and Bennett. I wanted them to have more in common, more fun, more passion, more wisecracking – just more, really. What they had was great, and I loved seeing them together, but they didn’t have that edge, that fire of compatibility that makes a YA couple totally unforgettable.
The plot of Time Between Us is very solid – there’s only one piece of backstory that lets it down. Bennett’s description of his time-travel experience was, well, not very believable. Trying to will himself somewhere like a pint-sized superhero and it spontaneously, ridiculously, actually working?! It’s a sketchy story at best and at worst, throws up a whole host of unhappy questions (including "So if he’d never thought to shut his eyes and magically teleport himself somewhere else, would he never have discovered his affinity for time travel?!") This lack of plausibility – never thought I’d use that word in a review of a book about time travel, but if the shoe fits – particularly when it came to the perplexingly abrupt end of the Brooke storyline, disappointed me a little.
Thankfully, Anna’s decisive and inspirational choices in the late stages of the book redeemed the negatives of the novel for me. It’s a rare occurrence, but an appropriate reminder that sometimes, sticking with a book even if you have your doubts can be wonderfully worthwhile. It’s such a warm and heartfelt story; it’s comforting and friendly, perfect for a stress-free evening of reading.
In short: Time Between Us was one of the first books I read in 2014, and I couldn’t have picked a better YA read to start the new year with. From the second I turned the first page, it felt warm and familiar, reassuring and solid – like an old friend I never knew I had. It’s downsides are still worth noticing, but the book as a whole is still worth reading, too.