I read this book for the first time during the worst period my life. Learn from my mistakes and heed my advice: Do NOT read this during the worst times of your life. Or do, if you want the full experience of really feeling the depression the characters feel. Seriously though, my own emotions just amplified the emotions in the book and vice versa, and it was an intense reading experience.
This book is heavy. It’s a love story, but it’s not a light, heartwarming one. It starts out sweet and adorable and quirky, and then it slowly gets darker and heavier as you realize all the struggles Henry and Clare have to go through because of his time traveling. I know love stories usually have struggles, it’s part of what separates them from romances, but this is A LOT of struggle. And a lot of feels. I think I actually shed some tears, which is a rare occurrence.
But, at the same time, it’s amazing. I’ve read it twice now, and both times I thought it was amazing.
Premise: For one thing, it’s such a unique, unusual, interesting premise. It’s a love story, and it’s time travel, but they’re combined in such a different way than what you normally find. The description was so confusing to me when I first read it, but it made sense once I started the book.
Time Travel: For me, this is the perfect version of time travel, the only version that I feel makes sense. One where you can’t change anything because everything that’s going to happen has already happened. If, in the future, you’re going to travel to the past and do something, that thing has already been done in the past. Again, if it sounds confusing here, don’t worry, it makes sense in the book. It’s also such an interesting, thought-provoking idea to explore. Imagine what it would be like to live that way. To meet your past and future self. To know everything that’s going to happen has already happened. To run into people who have memories with you that you don’t have yet, because those memories are with your future self who traveled into their past, or vice versa. I also found it very amusing imagining what Henry’s coworkers must have thought of him, constantly finding him naked in the stacks, thinking he had an exhibitionism fetish or something.
Characters: Equally important to the amazingness of this book was the characters. These characters and their lives were so realistically messy. Clare was often judgmental and could be harsh, not to mention a pretty bad friend to Cherise. Henry could be cold, and apparently he was a jerk to all the other women he dated, though it’s hard to know if he really was or not since we basically just have his reputation to go by, not actual events. I feel like his negative qualities and actions were more to do with his time travel though. He had to adapt to survive, so he did things like breaking and entering, pickpocketing, and other forms of thievery because he needed clothes and money when he found himself displaced in time. Well, he also used his time traveling to win the lottery and make money in stocks, so I guess he wasn’t entirely altruistic, but that was he and Clare and their friends using that to their advantage, not just him. But both Henry and Clare had rough lives growing up, with family difficulties. As adults, they had other struggles, often relating to Henry’s time travel disorder. If nothing else, I think they tried to be better parents than theirs were, and to be good to each other. Then there were all the other characters. To be honest, I’m not sure anyone in this book was particularly likeable, other than Kimy, Nell, and Alba. But, again, they were so well-written and believable, and that made them, and the whole story, interesting. And I do believe this was a case where any problematic elements were the characters, not the book or the author. The characters were just realistically flawed.
Relationship: As for the relationship, it’s such a core element of the story that everything in the book revolves around it, so everything in my review applies to it. It wasn’t a romance with sexy angst and long, eloquent speeches no one would ever say in real life. But these two were right for each other, I believed their love, and their relationship was just as realistic and imperfect as they were.
Plot: There wasn’t really a plot? And I didn’t care? No, that’s not a fair way of putting it. Plenty of things happened. It’s just that there was no end goal the characters were working toward. It was just Henry’s and Clare’s lives, their relationship, their struggles. But I never got bored or antsy the way I often do with meandering plots. Also, this story is told in a non-linear way, and while I’m normally not a fan of that, it was absolutely necessary here. The order in which this was told was the order that made sense.
Writing: The writing itself was also just very good. Sometimes beautiful. Sometimes comical. It flowed so well and sucked me in.
Audiobook: I listened to the audiobook the second time. I liked the narrator for Henry’s POV, Fred Berman. He sounded natural and emotive, both in narration and dialogue. He changed his way of speaking to match the mood and vibe of each scene or line. He used different enough voices or accents for characters that I could usually tell who was speaking. Female voices sounded ok enough so as not to bother me. I didn’t like the narrator for Clare’s POV though, Phoebe Strole. She was alright doing the narration and dialogue for Clare, but when it came to men, especially Henry, it didn’t sound natural. She would speak in a more stiff way, not with the right attitude or emotion, in my opinion. And her voices for male characters were basically just her very feminine voice, but a little stiffer. I would still recommend the audiobook though, if you enjoy or need audiobooks.
Overall Thoughts: This book is just incredibly well-written. The way it pulls you in. How realistic and believable everything feels. This is one of those books where everything is so complex and believable that sometimes it’s genuinely hard to believe anyone could have created all of this in their head, that it didn’t actually happen. It’s just a fantastic, emotional, creative, well-written, complex, thought-provoking book!
*Content and Trigger Warnings* (some of these might be minor spoilers, but I’ve hidden the big spoilers): Miscarriages (some of which are graphic) and difficulty conceiving. Parent death. Cancer (side character). Alcoholism. Bipolar disorder (side character). Depression. Suicide (side character). Lots of vomiting. *MAJOR SPOILERS* Feet amputation due to frostbite. Main character death. *END SPOILERS*
*I’ve read this book multiple times. This review was written after my 2nd read.*
Anyone who likes love stories, time travel (the kind where you can't change anything), messy and flawed characters, a lot of heaviness and feels, and unusual, creative, thought-provoking premises.