I found Time Travel for Love and Profit (2020, 310 pages) to be a funny book that was ultimately disappointing. In this story, main character Nephele wants a redo of her freshman year of high school, so she invents a time travel method which in this case is an app! However, when she activates the app, instead of the whole world reexperiencing the past year, she is the only one that goes back, while all her friends and family age normally around her. I thought this was a fun twist on the usual “Groundhog Day” type of time travel.
Summary from Goodreads:
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?
I laughed out loud several times while reading this book, mostly at the witty, albeit not-quite-believable dialogue. However, overall I was increasingly frustrated with the story. Nephele’s stated reason for wanting to go back in time is so that she can prevent her best friend from dumping her because Nephele believed this led to Nephele being unpopular. She expresses the idea that friends are important to her. But during the TEN years in a row that Nephele ends up repeating her experiment, the author seldom shows her talking with her peers, and when they do talk to her Nephele is inexplicably rude. It does not really seem like she is interested in getting to know her peers! The author describes Nephele as not having good social skills. Sometimes Nephele just freaks in a social situation when she doesn’t know what to say and runs away. As a reader, this would be an acceptable occurrence once or twice, but when it happened several times it became tiresome. We can imagine how differently we would do freshman year as a twenty-four year old, and it would have been satisfying to see her growth as a character as the book progressed, however she did not display more depth as a person, and in fact continued to seem less mature than the average high school freshman.
I didn’t really understand the central premise of the book regarding why she repeated her time travel experiment ten times. The friends issue was not mentioned much, and each trip caused some collateral damage to family members. It seems like it would have made sense for her to cut her losses and stop repeating freshman year. In the second part of the book saving the world from global warming is mentioned a few times as a motivation for the time travel, but since this motivator was not mentioned much in the early part of the book it did not ring true for me.
The idea of using an app as a time travel portal was a good one, and it was a fun twist that Nephele repeats a year although no one else does, but overall the plot and character development left a lot to be desired.
For more middle grade book reviews, check out out the MMGM post on Greg Pattridges’ blog!