Romantic, Yet Unsatisfying: Time After Time by Tamara Ireland Stone
Despite that the time travel elements were entirely undeveloped, I enjoyed Tamara Ireland Stone's debut novel, Time Between Us. I was swept up in Bennett and Anna's sweet, yet challenged, romance spanning decades, quite literally.
Sure, Bennett's ability to travel from his timeline in 2012 to Anna's in 1995 was effectively unexamined and consequences related to the ripple effect of time travel were only considered when it aided the plot. But it was a solid romance--and I'm a shameless sucker.
As I mentioned in my review of Time Between Us, I hoped that the intricacies and consequences of traveling through and altering time would be explored further. Because this is more of a romance, I didn't expect it reach All Our Yesterdays level, but I'd hoped for more--and I effectively got nothing in that regard.
[Note: Minor spoilers for Time Between Us follow.]
Time After Time picks up shortly after the conclusion of Time Between Us, with Bennett and Anna trying to manage a strange long-distance relationship, each in their own decades. Bennett is living with his family in 2012 San Francisco, while in 1995 Evanston, Illinois, Anna has returned from her summer study program in Mexico. Bennett travels through time to visit Anna as much as possible, but he can't stay in his past (and Anna's present) for very long.
Despite those obstacles, the couple meticulously schedules dates, trips to dances and special events so they can be as close to a normal couple as they can. As you can imagine, this does not end well.
But even when Bennett is in 1995 Evanston with Anna, it's hard not to alter the future. It's inevitable that he witnesses something he should--something that will alter Anna's life profoundly--and driven by his love for her, he impulsively changes the course of events, and his and Anna's future.
At this moment, Time After Time dances around the consequences of altering a timeline, but it simply never quite reaches an emotionally satisfying crescendo.
This is where the central conflict of Anna and Bennett's relationship could have been more deeply explored, and it never quite gets to a depth that was satisfying to me. In the end, the stakes never felt that high. It's rather unfair to Time After Time that I read it around the same time as I read All Our Yesterdays (which is one of my favorite novels of 2013), in which the ramifications of time travel are intense and quite terrifying.
While I wouldn't expect a romance-focussed time travel story to have the same level of risk as the save-the-world scenario in All Our Yesterdays, it's hard not to see how low-risk Bennett and Anna's situation is comparatively when reading the two stories so closely together. This is partially because in the first novel, the author allows Bennett to fix every boondoggle he creates (and those which simply occur as a matter of living life) thanks to time travel, so as a reader I never worried that things wouldn't work out for the pair as a couple.
I don't have a problem with a guaranteed happy ending, but was all the more frustrating due to the unsatisfying resolution of this duet of novels' central conflict.
Predictably, Bennett utilizes his special time travel ability (which is never, much to my annoyance, explained in a meaningful way) to see their happy ending. Fantastic, I guess, but the reader never is shown how the central conflict is resolved. And while I don't need a turn-by-turn GPS narrative in order to feel like a resolution has been achieved, I quite reasonably hoped for some sort of big picture discussion of how it would all work. And I didn't get it. Which makes me extremely grumpy.
The other aspect that made for a rather grumpy Sarah was that I missed Anna's point-of-view. It's funny because I wasn't fully invested in her when I read Time Between Us, but in Time After Time I truly missed two elements of her narration that wasn't present in Bennett's: Anna's sense of wonder and discovery of so many new experiences and Anna's relationships with her friends.
Bennett's world is very much wrapped up in his single-minded determination to be with Anna, which is sweet and romantic, but ultimately rather dull as well. Anna, on the other hand, had so much more than Bennett in her life, and it was fun discovering the world (quite literally) with her, as well as following the challenges of of negotiating her changing friendships. Bennett is a likable boy, if perhaps skewing a bit toward the wish-fulfillment side of things (not something I wholly object to), but I wanted to know him more and was rather disappointed that his character--and his unusual circumstances--was not explored more thorougly.
With All That Said, I still recommend Time Between Us for readers who enjoy a strong, well-written romance with fun time travel elements. But for readers who loved the first novel, but hoped for their questions to be answered in the follow-up, you'll likely be left disappointed in Time After Time.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher.