Audio Review: Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone
Between my blog post about audiobooks and a desperate cry on Goodreads and Twitter for audiobook recommendations, there were several suggestions of Tamara Ireland Stone's debut novel, Time Between Us. I'd been curious about this book anyway, as I am a tremendous sucker for time travel or parallel universe-type stories (I lay the blame for this squarely on Fringe).
I figured giving this particular book a whirl, since I had a couple of gratis Audible credits, and while I had extremely mixed feelings about The Time Between Us, I still enjoyed it quite a bit and am definitely onboard for the sequel, because there's something about this story that's extremely engaging and entertaining--and this was very much bolstered by the narrator's performance.
Time Between Us is set in 1995 Evanston, Illinois and is told in the first person present perspective of Anna, a 16-year old avid runner who works in her father's bookstore and dreams of traveling the world. She meets Bennett, a boy she first spots at the track where she runs and later enrolls as a temporary student at the private school she attends.
The two embark on an intense, whirlwind of a romance, culminating in Anna's discovery that Bennett has a big secret: he's from 2012, not 1995 and has traveled through time in search of someone from his present.
Much of this premise mirrors the plot of the hordes of paranormal YA novels that exploded in recent years: average girl, mysterious book, special powers, etcetera, etcetera.
However, despite that the basics of Time Between Us are nothing new, there's something fresh and fun in the writing and the engaging pace of the story. Some of this is because of the travel-meets-time travel aspect which we see through Anna's enthusiastic, very (in a good way) teenage eyes. But it's also because the wintery Evanston setting is well done and Anna has friends whose characters are well-developed and important to the story. She has a rich life before Bennett--she simply dreams of more.
Unfortunately, as much as I was swept up in Anna and Bennett's story and the question of if and how they could possibly be together, there is much in this story that's problematic.
Firstly--and the element that bothered me most--the time-travel aspect is weaksauce. There are few "rules" to the time travel beyond that it's a bad idea to alter the past and that you can only travel within your own lifetime. Frankly, the time-travel stuff is more like random paranormalcy than time-travel. And while I have no problems with paranormal stories, I wanted more solidness in the time-travel aspects at the center of Time Between Us.
At one point Bennett does math to figure out how to alter a timeline without causing a ripple effect and I thought,
"Kids, you need more than a little algebra to pull that off. You'll better call Peter and Walter Bishop to make this happen."
Ahem... moving on.
The set-up of Anna's school and home life is nonsensical. Her parents scrimp so she can attend an expensive private school in Evanston. As a result, she has to get a running scholarship to afford college and won't ever be able to afford her dream of travel, which she's wanted to do since childhood. It's not as if Evanston has the world's worst public schools and her education would suffer by attending a public school and therefore enabling her parents to save for college and possibly a study abroad or exchange program. Torpedoing their child's college and life dreams in order to pay for a private high school doesn't make a lot of sense and besides this perplexing problem, is strangely incongruous with the rest of the characterization of Anna's parents as they are generally great people who love their daughter, have a good relationship with her and are present in her life. And there were no plot circumstances that required she need to attend that school.
Also concerning is that Anna is fairly passive about her own life's course. (See the above, re: Anna's travel dreams.) And while I get that she's a teen, and that's one of the things that kind of happens to teens, the fact that she's so passionate about running and travel, her passivity felt out-of-character for a girl who's so motivated otherwise.
Additionally, as much as I enjoyed Anna's romance with Bennett on its surface, upon reflection, I wanted to know more about Bennett and his backstory and context.
I understand the sequel will be told from his perspective, and I think that's a good thing. He also makes some decisions which I felt were not his to make, and I didn't know enough about him to understand if those decisions were justifiable or not. It's frustrating that we have to wait for a sequel to know much of anything about Bennett, while just a little revelation about his character, his relationship with his special ability and what he wants out of life and a relationship with Anna.
Finally, I started counting the number of times Anna thought something along the lines of, "I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding." Girl, just breath, all right?
I realize it sounds like I didn't like Time Between Us, but I actually really enjoyed my time listening to it, despite the problems with the plot holes, character motivation and time travel WTFery. While the beginning and setup drags a bit, it's generally well-paced and has a nice balance of action and romance-y elements.
My enjoyment of Tamara Ireland Stone's debut was definitely aided by the fact that I listened to the audiobook and the narrator, Amy Rubinate, did an excellent job not only with differentiating the voices, but building tension as well.
I suspect I would not have had as much fun with Time Between Us had I read it as opposed to listening. Anna is read with a slightly breathless tone that's maintained throughout, which sounds like it would be strange or even annoying, but it very much reflects Anna's overwhelmed feelings toward what she's experiencing.
I will definitely look forward to the seeing whether the sequel, Space Between Us, answers some of my questions about Bennett and if the many time travel inconsistencies are fleshed out. In particular, I never bought that the aforementioned timeline could have been down without changing more than the one--ultimately not that significant--thing that they changed and I really want to see some rough consequences in the sequel as a result of Anna and Bennett's actions.
Basically, I've watched enough Fringe to understand the damn Butterfly Effect, y'all.
FNL Character Rating: The Inconsistencies of Lyla Garrity