Thank you to Touchstone Books for providing me a free, early copy of An Ocean of Minutes. All opinions are my own.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
America is in the grip of a deadly flu. When Frank gets sick, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him. She agrees to a radical plan—time travel has been invented in the future to thwart the virus. If she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years.
But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a new life and find a way to locate Frank, to discover if he is alive, and if their love has endured.
Let me start by saying that what drew me to this book was the dystopian, deadly flu scenario. I’m a sucker for those types of books. But time travel? I usually steer away from that element because there are so many rules that need to be laid out for time travel to seem even remotely plausible. To be honest I still find the time turner in Harry Potter confusing. However, Thea Lim created well-crafted time travel restrictions in the story which are different from most: you can only travel ahead in time, but no more than twelve years and you cannot go back in time BEFORE the invention of time travel (which was in the year 1980 after the flu outbreak). What I found surprising and most interesting was that the narrative was not too focused on the logistics of traveling through time or even the flu outbreak, but instead much more about how places and people can change over the span of two decades.
The story weaves back and forth between Polly’s memories of her past (before she travels through time) and her present (after she travels through time). We enter the novel in 1981 when the flu outbreak is in full swing. People are dying and Polly’s boyfriend Frank is one of the infected. Polly is given the opportunity by a corporation called TimeRaiser to travel ahead in time to 1993 to work for their company. In exchange, TimeRaiser will cover Frank’s treatment and ultimately save his life.
Polly and Frank make plans to meet up in the future, but during Polly’s journey, she’s rerouted to 1998 instead. Because she’s traveled 17 years ahead everything is totally different for Polly. America is completely unrecognizable to Polly, her contract with TimeRaiser bounds her to many months of labor, she cannot leave their grounds, and as a “journeyman” Polly essentially has no rights or citizenship in the new Americas.
How drastically does a place change over the span of almost 20 years? Imagine missing the growth and development of the city you live in for two decades. What would be different? Would anything look the same? And most importantly, what would happen to the people you love? Would they still be alive? And if so, would you be able to simply pick up where you left off? One of my favorite elements of the novel was Lim’s writing, especially when capturing Polly and Frank’s past. She included small details and the automatic gestures of two people in love which enhanced their affection for each other on the page.
Polly spends the majority of the novel surviving the grueling conditions of her new life while trying to contact and find Frank. Ultimately, An Ocean of Minutes asks the question, can love survive over a long period of time? I’m gonna be real and tell you that the ending isn’t clean and tied up in a bow. It’s very messy but realistic and some readers may not like that. However, this was a story that stuck with me. As someone who travels to my hometown Nashville every few months, I could understand Polly being unable to recognize her home. When a city is experiencing major growth, those changes happen fast. If you aren’t there to witness them, then coming back can be jarring. Polly’s nostalgia and aching for the past resonated deeply with me, and I think that’s why I connected with this book.
Have you read An Ocean of Minutes? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!