Beth and Tess live in a world where time travel is a reality. Several machines were discovered around the world, and have been there for thousands of years, but no one knows how they came to be. Time travel is regulated, but it can be abused. Beth is in 1992, a teenager who finds herself in a violent situation where a friend’s boyfriend is murdered, and the group gets a taste for it. Tess is in 2022, a traveler, studying the timeline but also trying to make edits that stick and make the world better. But she encounters other travellers who are trying to undo her work, and worse, destroy the machines so no one can undo the nightmare of a future they are creating. How much can one person change?
This is definitely original. Newitz creates a new way of describing time travel, and an alternate history (several alternate histories?) that spawn from our own. She’s created a timeline where abortion is illegal and women are struggling for rights, and what few they do have are being slowly stripped away by a group trying to eradicate women’s rights altogether. Travellers can’t go forward in time from their own present, only into the past, so it’s only when a traveller from the future comes to Tess and her colleagues that they get some idea of the nightmare that awaits them. Or could await them, if they don’t edit the timeline and make it stick. A powerful moment in the book is when the group trying to make positive change – the Daughters of Harriet – are together and Tess mentions one of their number that no one else remembers. Even that person’s partner. They have been edited from the timeline.
The author’s research and imagination shines through in Tess’ sections, though I found some of the time travel talk hard to digest at times. It was Beth’s sections that I enjoyed the most. She’s a teenager mostly dealing with teenager things, except her father is mentally ill and her mother…well, I don’t know what her mother’s deal is. But Beth’s family life is toxic and seeing her live through it and try to make life better for herself is what kept me coming back to the book. Beth really grounds the novel, especially when she deals with an unwanted pregnancy. And we get to see how Tess’ work impacts Beth as well as society as a whole.
While I wouldn’t say I loved this book, I definitely enjoyed it, and would recommend to anyone who likes something a little different.