Time travel has to be one of the most confusing things ever…to me, anyway. Every author or filmmaker seems to have his or her own rules when it comes to time travel, and maybe you’re some kind of sci-fi buff who can understand all this stuff without breaking a sweat, but it just makes my brain feel like it’s collapsing in on itself. I mean, I enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife, but trying to understand the logistics of the time travel involved made smoke come out of my ears, cartoon character style.
Luckily, that’s not a problem with Caroline B. Cooney’s Both Sides of Time. We bypass most of the time travel technicalities and get straight to the goods: romance! And not only does this book feature a love triangle, it features a time travel love triangle! Everyone knows those are the best kind of love triangles.
When we first meet Annie, she’s complaining about her stupid boyfriend Sean. Sean only cares about repairing cars, while Annie wants him to be more romantic. In my limited experience, this is basically normal high school dude behavior. Try dressing up like a box of taquitos or an Xbox, Annie. Maybe then Sean will pay attention to you. Anyway, Annie decides she wants to change Sean into a more romantic guy, even though the advice columns she’s been reading and the radio shows she’s been listening to tell her that you can’t change someone else. Is Annie listening to Delilah? Is this love advice interspersed with Mariah Carey ballads? It’s really too bad Annie doesn’t have O Magazine, because I’m pretty sure Oprah could convince her to focus on her own self-actualization.
As it turns out, Annie doesn’t need Oprah at all to have a more exciting life. All she needs is a little accidental time travel. As Annie’s wandering around the old Stratton Mansion, a dilapidated old building the town is about to demolish, she falls back in time. She finds herself at the Stratton Mansion of 1895, not 1995. Instead of a falling-apart, about-to-be-torn-down building, now she’s standing in a mansion full of people, while Sean’s still in 1995, romantically telling her to fetch his metric wrenches.
That’s where she meets Strat, her 1890s dream dude. They start a whirlwind romance filled with ice cream parlor visits, bicycle rides, dancing and no kissing because this is the 1890s. But there are some significant problems with their romance, even without the whole “one of them belongs in another century” thing. Like the fact that another woman, Harriet (whom everyone keeps saying is “plain,” even though she really just seems to have bad teeth. Big deal! Madonna has a gap in her teeth and look at how well she’s doing for herself!), is in love with Strat. And the fact that Strat’s father wants him to marry Harriet, not Annie. Oh, and then there’s also a MURDER. Did you see that one coming? I didn’t.
Even if I wanted to give you spoilers, I couldn’t because this book ends on a cliffhanger like you would not believe. But no worries…there are three other books! Do Annie and Strat end up together? Does Annie make it home? Does Harriet find people to hang out with who don’t constantly remind her how “plain” she is? And does Sean ever find a girl to bring him wrenches in his time of need? I have a lot of questions, so I guess I’ll have to read the other books to find answers.
-Just as there are clichés and conventions in romance novels, there are some exchanges that seem to take place in every time travel book. One of them is the whole, “What are you wearing? No one from this time would wear that!” thing. Everyone’s always talking about how Annie is such a brazen hussy for daring to show her bare legs and not wear a hat. Meanwhile, Annie’s got that sassy, 1995, “I do what I want!” attitude. She doesn’t even tighten her corset that much because she “likes to breathe” or something. Scandalous!
-While Both Sides of Time might be about time travel and romance, it’s also about feminism. That’s right, Caroline B. Cooney managed to slip some real talk into this book. Annie thinks it’s crazy how much power men have over women in the 1890s, but then she realizes that her life in 1995 is pretty much the same. Sean the Boring basically rules her life, and she lets him. By the end of the book, most of the female characters end up gaining a lot more freedom.