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Rachel Carter’s Top 5 Time Travel Novels

by ◊ 2 years ago 11 Comments Switch View

It feels like I have always been obsessed with the concept of time travel, though I can probably trace it back to one specific source: The Terminator. I remember watching the movie as a child, and though I wasn’t a huge fan of Arnold or robots from the future, I could not get enough of the time travel elements. Mostly because it confused the crap out of me. How was it possible for Kyle Reese to be both John Connor’s father and his future apocalypse buddy? Wouldn’t that mean time is stuck in some never-ending loop, forever destined to keep repeating itself?

I drew graphs this idea confused me so much. (I wish I were kidding.) I eventually realized that time is linear, so though it might loop around for Kyle Reese, the rest of us keep slogging through it year after year. But by that point, time travel had become this little seed inside of me that only continued to grow. Mystery, romance – time travel seemed to heighten those elements of stories that I always loved. I quickly devoured anything I could find on the subject, especially novels. And there
are some good ones out there, believe me.

To prove my point, here are my top five favorite time travel novels:

1. Both Sides of Time

Caroline B Cooney ruled my tween bookshelf – and for good reason. The Face on the Milk Carton is still one of the best concepts for a young adult novel I’ve ever read. But while Janie’s story was great, I was obsessed…obsessed, with Cooney’s Both Sides of Time.

This book tells the story of Annie Lockwood, a modern teen who travels back to the Victorian era by chance and then falls in love with a wealthy boy named Strat. They have to solve a murder together, and there are some lovely time-related misunderstandings – like when Strat sees her ankle and almost has a heart attack. Thank god Cooney turned this book into a series – there are four in all – because I don’t think I could have lived a happy life without knowing what eventually becomes of the star-crossed pair.

If you’re looking for some romance, and a lot of information on consumption (who isn’t?), then read this series. You won’t be disappointed.

2. The Time Traveler’s Wife

Is there anything more romantic than a destined love? I don’t think so, and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife proves it. Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to travel to different periods in his life. Sometimes he interacts with himself and with others – like Clare, his future wife. His relationship with her spans from her childhood through her adulthood. And though that sounds creepy, it’s not, I swear.

What I like about this book is how it deals with the actualities of time travel. Henry travels through naked, which means he has to find clothes and shelter. Sometimes he’s freezing and hurt. He’s gone for hours or days. Clare falls in love with an older, more stable version of him, but then “first” meets him as a brash, damaged young man. The novel deals with her confusion, and with the reality of what it means to have certain choices made for you. Time travel is not all hearts and flowers; it’s often dangerous and emotionally scarring…though always interesting. The Time Traveler’s Wife captures these complexities honestly and beautifully.

3. Timeline

Michael Crichton’s novel, Timeline, is a little more old-school time travel. As in, there is a time machine. The travelers aren’t going to the past by accident – they are historians and archeologists who willingly travel to the Middle Ages in order to
rescue a colleague and friend.

Oh man, this book. The thing with writing time travel is that it often turns into a historical novel. Crichton does that so well here. He sticks alarmingly close to the facts about the era and this is what we learn: the Middle Ages were not pretty. But they were entertaining and dangerous and kind of romantic (minus all the murder). Timeline is a perfect blend of historical and sci-fi, with a healthy dose of plague-related vengeance.

4. Outlander

Outlander is that kind of book that has a cult-following it is so good. It’s the beginning of a very prolific series by Diana  Gabaldon, and it’s about a WWII nurse who touches a stone in Scotland and travels back to the eighteenth century. There she falls in love with a young – hot! – soldier, while never forgetting that she has a husband back at home. (Oops.) There are also lots of battles and blood and doctoring and kissing. The time travel is less prominent in this story, and it often feels more like a historical novel. But there are ways in which the time travel gets thrown into your face, and then you realize how much is at stake for everyone involved. Especially for you, the reader. And your poor, bruised heart.

5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The time travel in Prisoner of Azkaban sneaks up on you. On the surface, it’s another Harry Potter novel with Harry, Hermione, and Ron spending the year at Hogwarts and like, saving the world and stuff. But Hermione is secretly using a time-turning device to go back in time throughout the book. I don’t want to give too much away, but the device plays a key part in the end, when Harry has to go back in time to fix certain events.

This book does time travel right in one key way – it plays with expectations. We see events work out one way and are disappointed by them. But when Harry goes back in time, he goes with the knowledge of exactly what needs to change – and he also learns new things along the way. This is exactly what time travel should do: surprise us, entertain us, and change our perceptions of what time and story mean.

So if you’re looking for a great time travel book, I highly recommend one of these novels. Or, you know, you could try out my young adult debut novel, So Close to You. Yes, I like time travel stories so much that I wrote my own. I think that’s the literary equivalent of putting a ring on it.

About the Author


Phoebe North is a twenty-something writer of YA speculative fiction. She lives in New York State with her husband and cat (who may be the most intelligent being in her household). Visit her website at View all posts by Phoebe »

Discussion - 11 Comments:

  1. Nice list, Rachel! Like you, I am a time-travel nut, and I already have SO CLOSE TO YOU on my to-read list. I’ll have to check out OUTLANDER too. Have you read Connie Willis’ DOOMSDAY BOOK? She is a master at writing time travel stories, and that is one of the best I have ever read. Crichton’s book is similar, but I found DOOMSDAY BOOK to be more compelling in characterization and execution. It’s a heart breaker.

    I also recommend TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney, especially if you like reading about old New York City like I do. It has a similar time travel mechanic to BID TIME RETURN by Richard Matheson (which was popularized by the film Somewhere in Time, and consequently renamed).

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    • I actually own TIME AND AGAIN, but haven’t read it yet. Now I will for sure! I’ll also put DOOMSDAY BOOK on the list too. OUTLANDER is great, but more of a historical romance than time travel-sci-fi. Thanks for reading the post!

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    • Julia

      We had to read To Say Nothing of the Dog, also by Connie Willis, for an online english class I took last year, in 8th grade. She writes such great time travel it’s not even funny. The beginning was hard to get in to, but once you get past that and into about the halfway point you can’t put it down.

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  2. Phoebe

    Thank you so much for this post, Rachel! And for the Both Sides of Time nostalgia. I loved that book–and shared it with my mother at about 15. Weird thing–about five years later, we both devoured Time Traveler’s Wife, too. Seems time travel romances transcend generation.

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    • I’m actually on a mission to reread the whole BOTH SIDES OF TIME series. Time travel romance is maybe my favorite genre ever (instant soulmate stuff kills me!). Do you watch Misfits? The British teen show about superheroes? They have this AMAZING time travel storyline that I bet you would love.

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      • Phoebe

        No, but I’ve been looking for a new show to watch. Thanks for the rec, Rachel!


  3. I’ll just add another recommendation for Doomsday Book. It’s brilliant.

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  4. Amanda Frank

    This is a great post, and thank you for the recommendations. I encourage my children to read and go for the books that are challenging yet creative that get their minds working, and I’m looking for another one to get them. They both just read a great book called “Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton” by Warren L. Woodruff, you can check it out and get it right from the website My kids loved it! Thanks again for the post and suggestions!

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  5. Green Futures of Tycho! William Sleator!
    (Hey, look, I DID recommend him previously!) (Er. It is so damn hard to keep track of causality!)

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  6. Courtney Ann

    Wow.. I was always wondering what other books were sort of like time traveling like the four books by Caroline’s like Out of Time book. Isn’t that like the second novel? The other three books you mentioned sound very interesting, but I do not like Harry Potter. I think the rest of my family does.. It’s neat some of the movies. Ever since after I read the books by Cooney I have had horrible luck. Maybe I can go book looking.. Hahaha Thank you for sharing your lovely desrciptions of these books.. Sounds very nice.

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  7. Tom Hartman

    Check out Stephen Kings 11/22/63!

    Don’t let the plot summary fool you, it’s a wonderful love story with time travel and suspense….just don’t read any spoilers!!!


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