The Unintentional Time Traveler – Everett Maroon
Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era. Since his seizures usually give him spazzed out visions, Jack presumes this is a hallucination. Feeling fearless, he steals a horse, expecting that at any moment he’ll wake back up in the clinical trial lab. When that doesn't happen, Jacqueline falls unexpectedly in love, even as the town in the past becomes swallowed in a fight for its survival. Jack/Jacqueline is caught between two lives and epochs, and must find a way to save everyone around him as well as himself. And all the while, he is losing time, even if he is getting out of algebra class.
Review: The concept of this book is amazing. I really wish the execution had been better.
When teenager Jack Bishop agrees to participate in a medical study, he hopes that it will help with his epilepsy. He does not expect that the study will send him back in time, but that’s exactly what happens. During the study, the doctors induce a seizure, and Jack wakes up in 1926. To make things more bizarre, Jack isn’t in his own body. He’s in the body of a girl named Jacqueline. Can Jack/Jacqueline use their newfound time travel skills to save Jacqueline’s town and navigate the tricky relationships in both of their lives?
This book puts a unique spin on a time travel story. When Jack travels, he doesn’t take his body with him. He has to adapt to whatever body he finds himself inhabiting. This raises a lot of interesting questions. How much does a person’s body influence their personality? Could you still be yourself if your body was suddenly different? Would you be more comfortable in a different body? I love that the author doesn’t moralize or try to give concrete answers to these questions. He just allows Jack/Jacqueline to be themselves and explore their identity. Whatever happens happens.
The plot takes a while to get going, but once it does, I was totally hooked. There are so many twists that I didn’t see coming. The ending is nuts.
I enjoyed the action and the body-swapping, but I had a ton of issues with this book.
First, I was frustrated by how uncurious the characters are. If I woke up in 1926 inside someone else’s body, I’d have a lot of questions. I kept waiting for Jack/Jacqueline to ask my questions. When they finally got around to asking the important ones, the questions weren’t answered. I know that this book is the first in a series, but I think more answers could have been given. It’s frustrating to not fully understand what’s going on. I mostly want to know who is in Jack’s body when he isn’t using it. I spent the whole book waiting to find out, and I never did. There were a zillion opportunities for Jack to ask that question.
Also, Jacqueline disappears for a few years and then suddenly shows up again. Some people (including her mother) thought she was dead. When she unexpectedly comes home, nobody bothers asking where she was. Wouldn’t they be curious about this? I was.
Next, the instalove is strong in this one. Jack meets Jacqueline’s friend, Lucas, and immediately becomes obsessed. I don’t understand why. They kiss a few times, and then they’re in love. That must have been a mind-blowing kiss.
I think a few more rounds of editing would have done this book a lot of good. I sometimes had a hard time picturing the blocking of the scenes. There were a few times where I got confused about something and had to back up and reread. For example, there is a scene where Jack is in a tunnel and wishes he had a screwdriver. A few scenes later, he has a screwdriver. (I think?) Where did it come from? There’s another scene where part of a conversation is missing. In another scene, a horse disappears from one place and appears somewhere else. Editing could have fixed these inconsistencies.
Finally, I questioned the representation of mental illness. Jack’s doctor is sent to a mental hospital after he claims that he has sent his patients back in time. The hospital gives him medication that turns him from a highly educated person to a gameshow-obsessed man-child. Can medication do that? Would doctors allow that to happen to a patient? I’m not sure.
I don’t think I’m going to pick up the sequels, but the plot and exploration of gender were interesting to read.