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.
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.
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.