The Girl in the Time Machine, by Debra Chapoton

I recently got an Amazon gift card, and I used it to order a book that I really want to read, but I have to wait for it to arrive. Also, I just finished (and loved) a book that I really wanted to read, but I’m still working on writing that review. So I searched through my Kindle for other books that I’d bought along the way, searching for (1) something that wouldn’t be a long read, (2) something that wasn’t about mermaids, and (3) something drastically different than the two YA contemporary books between which I’d wedge a book.

Meeting all three criteria: The Girl in the Time Machine.

Oh. My. GOSH!

I had it all planned out. There are twenty-five chapters, and it was about five more days until the book would arrive. Five chapters a day isn’t much at all. That’s easy. Well, on Tuesday night, I read the first fifteen chapters. The only reason I stopped reading was because it was 1:30 in the morning, and I needed to sleep. But as soon as I woke up Wednesday morning, I finished the book. This book grabbed me and didn’t want to let go of me.

Before I tell why and how this happened, let me give the basic set-up. It will be really basic, however, as I’m not going to reveal any spoilers.

Laken Mitchell’s parents have built a one-way time machine. After being bullied at school, Laken uses the time machine to send the girls bullying her to other times. She rationalizes her actions by providing them better lives than they have in the present, as at least one of them is being abused. Most of the girls are written off as runaways, but when one’s disappearance is being investigated—and the bruises on the girl weren’t from abuse but from medical treatment—Laken and her friend Skylar travel back in time to retrieve the girl. The story begins with Laken having to BURY the girl they retrieved while feeling terrible about leaving Skylar behind in 1994.

Oh. MY! GOSH!!

The entire book is written as a long apology to Skylar. Thus, it’s written in first-person narration from Laken’s point of view, but the second-person usage of “You” (referring to Skylar, if/when she reads the message) gave it an immediacy I’ve never experienced in a book. I felt like Laken was apologizing, rationalizing, confessing everything to me personally. Suffice it to say, the choice is effective and brilliant.

Time travel is a tricky subject to do correctly for many reasons, especially when the characters have to cross their own timelines. As much as I thoroughly enjoy the Back to the Future trilogy, there are many inconsistencies in logic. The movie shows timelines can change, but after Marty drastically alters his father’s confidence, what are the odds that his parents conceive their three children at exactly the same times? Very little. When Marty and Doc Brown leave unaltered 2015 for 1985, how do they cross timelines and end up in Biff-corrupted 1985? On the other hand, you have the everything-already-happened theory of time travel, handled well in the movie 12 Monkeys. I also hear the movies Project Almanac and Primer do time travel well, but I haven’t seen them.

Well, The Girl in the Time Machine can be added to the list of stories that do time travel well. Or it seems that way, anyway. I have to give author Debra Chapoton immense credit for the sheer volume of outlining she must have done to keep track of all the crossing of her characters’ timelines. Without taking notes on my first read, all their travels and looping seem to work. I still have time before my next book arrives, and I’m seriously contemplating reading the book again with a poster-sized paper nearby to keep track of it all. Its complexity is expertly plotted.

OH! MY!! GOSH!!!

So why didn’t I give the book five stars if I’m so clearly raving about it?

Without revealing a spoiler, there’s something that I predicted far too early in the book. The clues for it are there, but I sniffed them out almost immediately. Then again, I’m a writer and avid reader, so I’m always looking for details, so this is only a minor quibble.

I was afraid going in that I wouldn’t like Laken as a character because the premise is based upon her enacting revenge. Turns out that wasn’t a problem because she holds herself accountable for it all, and I respect that. But I felt she lost some of her edge at the end of the book. The book rapidly and tensely builds to a climax, but the resolution was missing something for me. The race-against-time excitement just kind of stopped, and then some things happened that I don’t fully understand. Maybe on a re-read, I’ll see the clues for it and increase my rating.

But I’m talking about a re-read, and that’s nothing but a high compliment to this taut, thrilling, twisty-turny time travel tale Chapoton crafted. The Girl in the Time Machine’s complex plot and effective urgent narration deserve at least FOUR AND A HALF STARS.

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The Girl in the Time Machine is available at Amazon.

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