I fully blame my mother’s stash of time travel romances (so popular in the 80’s and early 90’s!) for my love of a good time travel story, and when I heard about TheWriteReads‘ latest blog tour book, A Different Time by Michael K. Hill (Tangent Press, 2019), the young teenager in me that used to sneak books from the downstairs coat closet leaped up and begged to join in, and who am I to say no when a story deals with communicating with the past???
Keith Nolan has been a little more than down on his luck for a very long time. His parents both died young, leaving him alone, fending for himself in this big lonely modern-day world. His job pays the bills, but it’s not exactly fulfilling, and his social life consists of a single guy friend with whom he eats takeout food and plays video games. No girls to speak of, Keith’s a little too shy and awkward for that. One of the few things in life that does bring him joy is spending his weekends combing flea markets for the comic books that will complete the collection of Uncanny X-Men his father left him. But when he finally manages to complete his collection, Keith is stunned by the realization that he never planned for what to do with his life beyond that. Enter Lindsey…
Or, not exactly. Lindsey, an artist and a dreamer, is trying to figure out her post-high school life in 1989. Her impatient mother isn’t willing to let her take her time, and her skeezy stepfather isn’t making Lindsey’s home situation any easier. Desperate for someone, anyone, to talk to, Lindsey pulls out an old camcorder and begins to record a video journal in the hopes of talking out her problems and getting her life in order.
The discovery of an old VHS-C tape at a flea market has Keith running for the VCR and an adapter tape, because merely touching the tape sends tingles running up his arm. And as the tape plays and Keith watches Lindsey, somehow, some way, the two realize they can communicate with each other. It doesn’t make sense to either of them, but Keith knows this is something special, something life-changing…if only he can track down Lindsey’s other tapes. But how? And will he be too late?
While it’s not traditional time travel, it’s still close enough to make my time travel-lovin’ heart squeal with joy. Keith is a sympathetic character from the start. In the beginning, we see him as a young boy, surrounded by the love of his parents on a birthday trip to New York where he’s saved from being run down in the street by the woman who turns out to be his favorite children’s book author, and the next thing we know, he’s a new adult, still aching over the loss of his parents who died on his fourteenth birthday. It’s easy to ache along with him and root for him as he searches (in some vividly disgusting situations!) for Lindsey’s other videotapes.
Lindsey is just as sympathetic. Still reeling from her parents’ divorce and subsequent move from Hawaii to California, Lindsey is so many of us in the years after high school, unsure of which way to go and which path to take. Her mother has, for all purposes, abandoned her emotionally in favor of focusing on her new and extremely skeezy husband (there’s a content warning here for an attempted assault, along with what skews toward emotional abuse from her mother, so please beware if you’re sensitive to these subjects), and Lindsey’s sadness and confusion make her a character you’ll desperately want to find a happily ever after.
What Keith and Lindsey discover together through the tapes is close to instalove, but it’s magical and spellbinding and otherworldly. Some of the best descriptions of the entire book come when Keith is desperately tearing through flea market dumpsters in a frenzied search for Lindsey’s other tapes. Do NOT eat while you’re reading this section; the phrase “garbage juice” alone should tell you enough of a reason why, and I was applauding Mr. Hill’s ability to create a scene I could practically smell from my comfortable reading place in my (better-scented!) home. It was entirely grotesque, incredibly entertaining to read, and it ended up being my favorite part of the book because of how easily I was transported right into those dumpsters alongside Keith.
This had a completely different ending than I expected it would, which pleased me quite a bit; I love when I think I have everything figured out, but it turns out that I was wrong and the ending is actually far more interesting than the one I was expected. The concept of being able to communicate with someone in the past has intrigued me for years, I even adored it in my childhood- if you’re familiar with the book Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, that book involved both time travel and communicating with the person with whom Charlotte switched places via letters strategically hidden in a bedpost- but the concept of being able to speak to someone through old VHS tapes was a new (and deeply intriguing!) one to me, and A Different Time has now got me wondering what time travel books will look like in the future when characters travel to and communicate with people of this era. Youtube videos? Files on old jump drives? There are so many possibilities here!
What a fun and ultimately charming book Mr. Hill has written. I’m so happy I got the chance to be a part of this blog tour, and if you’re a fan of books with elements of time travel and a little bit of the supernatural, A Different Time is worth YOUR time.
Thanks for stopping by on this blog tour- huge thanks to Dave at TheWriteReads and Michael K. Hill for allowing me to take part- and I hope you’ll check out some of the other stops!