by Sarah Lariviere
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: January 26, 2021
Genres: Young Adult
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
When Nephele has a terrible freshman year, she does the only logical thing for a math prodigy like herself: she invents a time travel app so she can go back and do it again (and again, and again).
Fourteen-year-old Nephele used to have friends. Well, she had a friend. That friend made the adjustment to high school easily, leaving Nephele behind in the process. And as Nephele looks ahead, all she can see is three very lonely years.
Nephele is also a whip-smart lover of math and science, so she makes a plan. Step one: invent time travel. Step two: go back in time, have a do-over of 9th grade, crack the code on making friends and become beloved and popular.
Does it work? Sort of. Nephele does travel through time, but not the way she planned--she's created a time loop, and she's the only one looping. And she keeps looping, for ten years, always alone. Now, facing ninth grade for the tenth time, Nephele knows what to expect. Or so she thinks. She didn't anticipate that her new teacher would be a boy from her long ago ninth grade class, now a grown man; that she would finally make a new friend, after ten years. And, she couldn't have pictured someone like Jazz, with his deep violet eyes, goofy magic tricks and the quietly intense way he sees her. After ten freshman years, she still has a lot more to learn. But now that she's finally figured out how to go back, has she found something worth staying for?
This book is weird, and not just in the way you expect a Groundhog-Day-esque time travel book to be.
“Breakthroughs are great, don’t get me wrong; but admitting that there were epic flaws in your original idea is hella painful. I’ve decided that science is like a sausage factory. Major discoveries are delicious, but you don’t want to know what’s in there.”
Nephele loves math. Frankly, she’s a genius. She knows that makes her weird and generally not like the other freshmen at her high school, but as long as she has her best friend Vera, she doesn’t care. And then, abruptly, Vera ghosts her, and the rest of the year only gets worse from there. But a new book at her dad’s bookshop seems to have the answer. If Nephele invents a time machine, she can go back in time and redo freshman year, making it so that Vera never drops her. Piece of cake, right? But while the resulting app – of course it’s an app – works, not everything goes the way Nephele expects. Can she fix whatever’s wrong before everyone she knows forgets about her?
“If this was how child prodigies thought, no wonder people thought we were abnormal. Clearly, I wasn’t. It’s not like my best friend was a black-and-white photograph or anything.”
At the beginning, I sympathized with Nephele. Being fourteen is hard, and while Nephele has a deep understanding of the beauty of mathematics, the illogical actions and feelings of the kids around her are about as incomprehensible to her as most of the math in the book was to me. I mean, after Vera dumps her, her best friend is a black and white photograph at her dad’s bookshop. It’s even worse that she’s eternally fourteen while everyone else ages up around her. The book has a very stream-of-conscious feel from Nephele’s first person POV, which can lead to odd passages like her full-on conversations with the photo. A large part of the first portion of the book is just her inner monologue while she tells us what’s happening. As the book progresses, though, it does give the reader a good view into Nephele’s character arc, which doesn’t really pick up until her tenth go-round when she finally starts interacting with her fellow students. She’s known she’s different from a young age, and as a result she pushes people away before they can reject her. She doesn’t understand how her dogged determination to regain Vera’s friendship is just another extension of that rejection. I did like seeing how her friends drew her out and how she came to terms with her behavior. I also liked her determination to fix her app, even if the whole idea of a fourteen-year-old being able to code a working time travel app was pretty out there.
“Still—could I abandon my experiment prematurely just because I’d finally met a boy? Could I give up my last chance to un-hurt my parents?”
As for cons, the pacing is very jerky. At times it’s too fast, like when most of the first disastrous freshman year is skipped over or the multiple months she spends perfecting her app. At other times, it feels like it’s going too slow, like the extended monologue sections where she’s recapping her work with the app. It would’ve been nice to have things broken up with a little more dialogue, even if it was with a photograph! The most annoying thing to me, however, was the the continuous tired jabs at romance novels, which probably explains why the romance in the book is so lackluster and trite. I liked Jazz as a character (albeit, a manic pixie dreamboy character with purple eyes) but just couldn’t buy into the romance, which took a lot of oomph out of the final bits of the story.
Overall, while the concept was interesting, the book just didn’t work out for me.