By: Angie Haddock
In this novel America is in the grip of a deadly flu pandemic. When Frank catches the virus, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him—even if it means risking everything. When she finds out there’s a company that has invented time travel, she agrees to a radical contract: if she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded laborer, 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.
Amazingly enough, this book came out in 2018 – as in, before our current pandemic. And it was on some “books of the year” lists at the time, but I had not heard anything about it! (I wasn’t on bookstagram yet, so there’s that.) So I happened upon it by chance, but I was immediately taken in by the story, which is both mesmerizing and frustrating.
The story takes place during a pandemic. Time travel is invented, initially to try and stop the pandemic, but that doesn’t work. Instead, people in the beginning years of the pandemic are recruited to jump forward to the post-pandemic era, when there is a dire need for workers. One benefit offered is medical treatment for a loved one in the current era – including expensive, life-saving treatment from the disease ravaging the country.
Such is the situation with lovebirds Polly and Frank. They are in their twenties, and far from home when the outbreak happens. (They’re from Buffalo, but find themselves stuck in Texas now.) When Frank becomes ill, Polly agrees to leap forward 12 years. They agree to meet at an area landmark as soon as she “arrives.”
Unfortunately for Polly, she arrives to a world that is totally foreign to her. The country split into two – the United States and America. She is basically an indentured servant to the time travel company, or whoever they loan her out to, until she works off her expenses. She can’t travel north without a passport, as it’s now a different country. And the hotel she was to meet up with Frank at is now a port, with tight security.
The book bounces back and forth between Polly’s past and present. We learn of how she and Frank met, why they were in Texas, and the like. In the present/future, her situation goes from bad to worse several times, and she struggles with whether or not she should ever hope for more. There are a few turns that literally had me yelling, “No!”
The copy I have has an author Q&A in the back, in which Lim says she modeled Polly’s experiences after those of many illegal immigrants who constantly feel they have no choice but to do the crappiest jobs and live in the crappiest conditions. Sometimes their biggest barriers are not knowing the language or culture of the place they find themselves (or not understanding the rules).
Also of note is that the whole book takes place in our past. Polly and Frank meet in the late 1970s, and the world she finds herself thrust into is in the late 1990s. (Obviously, it is a very different 1990s than we knew!)
This is a very moving story. There’s a mild sci-fi aspect, in that time travel exists. And there is a moderate love story, although most of the book is spent with our leads being separated. But overall, it’s just a gripping tale of one woman trying to survive in a world she cannot understand.