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6 Novels That Mess With Time

Written By Rachael Conrad

Rachael Conrad is an award-winning indie bookseller with over a decade of experience in the industry. When she's not reading or writing Rachael can often be found exploring the woods and tide pools of Maine and discussing who the best Chris is (it's Pine, obviously). Her writing can be found in Tor/Reactor, Polygon, and Kirkus Reviews."

Have you ever seen pictures from a different decade and wondered what it would be like to travel back through time and experience it for yourself? Or what it would be like if you could talk to a version of yourself from the future or the past? Or what would happen if you broke the rules of time travel in order to do any of the above?

The following six books are brilliant examples of one of the most heart wrenching and action packed sub-genres of science fiction. 

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard might very well be one of the best and most breathtaking books to hit shelves in 2024, let alone about time travel. The prose is truly stunning, the story is deeply moving—fans of Ishiguro will love it—and Howard has a solid grasp on how time travel would work if it existed in the real world. 

Sixteen-year-old Odile lives in a small town set in a valley that is flanked on one side by the same town twenty years in the future and on the other side by the same town twenty years in the past. These valleys and towns continue to repeat as far as the eye can see, but no one is allowed to travel between them without express permission. When Odile accidentally witnesses two people cross the border and recognizes them as her friend’s parents, she knows that something terrible is sure to happen. Sworn to secrecy, Odile must decide whether to do something with this information and change the course of fate, and time, forever. 

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch

Thrust is one of the strangest, most dynamic, mind bending books about the fluidity of time and time travel to ever exist.

Laisve is a carrier. Though she doesn’t know it yet, this means that she has the ability to use emotionally significant objects to carry her throughout time. One day, while sifting through the rubble of a fallen city, Laisve happens upon an item that will unexpectedly connect her to dozens of people who came before her. Through an intricately woven narrative, Laisve meets a French sculptor, a dictator’s daughter, a group of laborers working on a famous national monument, and many more, all of whom share a dream of freedom. 

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Set in New York, Recursion follows a police officer by the name of Barry Sutton and a neuroscientist, Helena Smith, as they work together to solve a mind-bending, time altering mystery. False Memory Syndrome is a mysterious disease that drives its victims mad with memories of a life that never existed. When a woman suffering from FMS abruptly takes  her own life, Barry decides to look into how the disease is spreading. His investigation eventually leads him to Helena and the technology she has developed to help change the world. 

The Deja Glitch by Holly James

The Deja Glitch is a delightful rom-com from start to finish and a perfect example of a time loop in the same vein as Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day

All that Jack needs to break out of the 24 hour time loop that he’s been stuck in is for Gemma, an up-and-coming music producer, to fall in love with him before the end of the day. Each time Jack fails, the clock resets, and he’s forced to start the day anew. The problem, of course, is that Gemma has absolutely no idea who Jack is or why, when they meet, he stares at her with such unabashed longing. Even stranger is the odd sense of deja vu that Gemma can’t seem to shake when they meet. 

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

If you’re a self professed fan of time travel  and somehow haven’t read Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s deeply romantic, epistolary scifi novel yet, then it’s safe to say that you’re seriously missing out. 

Alone in an unnamed, dying world, a soldier discovers a letter that changes the course of her future and her past. She writes back, and thus begins a story of two women surviving a war that transcends time and space itself, and who slowly fall in love with each other in the process. It’s gorgeous, incredibly strange, and well-deserving of all the praise that has been heaped onto it over the years. 

11/22/63 by Stephen King 

It would be remiss not to include Stephen King’s incredibly hefty, epic time travel novel, 11/22/63 on this list. It’s a fan favorite of his for a reason. 

Set both in Dallas, Texas in the days leading up to JFK’s assassination and Lisbon Falls, Maine in 2011, 11/22/63 tells the story of Jake Epping. After Jake, an English teacher by trade, stumbles across a portal that will take him to the late 1950s, he becomes determined to prevent the death of JFK’s death before it happens. All he has to do is lay low and wait for November 22nd, 1963 to roll around. But things become infinitely more complicated when Jake falls in love with a high school librarian and encounters a deeply troubled man by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald. 

King portrays 1960s America with both a sense of romanticism and brutal honesty that balances itself out well in one of his most thrilling works of historical fiction.