Review – The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon

One of the most egregious gaps in my reading history is books written by or about transgender people. In September I finished the fabulous audiobook by Janet Mock, Redefining Realness, and reviewed it a few weeks ago. but before that, nothing. Then in October, I finally got around to reading The Unintentional Time Travel by Everett Maroon, which was recommended to me by a few people and had been praised by one of the co-founders of GayYA.org. The blurb promises an action-packed and exciting adventure with time travel and a complex exploration of gender identity. So I knew I had to read it. 

The plot is rather complex, but the book blurb actually does a great job of summarizing it! Not every book blurb does this, which is why I like to offer my own summaries in reviews, but the official one will do for now:

Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era. Since his seizures usually give him spazzed out visions, Jack presumes this is a hallucination. Feeling fearless, he steals a horse, expecting that at any moment he’ll wake back up in the clinical trial lab. When that doesn’t happen, Jacqueline falls unexpectedly in love, even as the town in the past becomes swallowed in a fight for its survival. Jack/Jacqueline is caught between two lives and epochs, and must find a way to save everyone around him as well as himself. And all the while, he is losing time, even if he is getting out of algebra class.

 

Please read the blurb above! ↑↑↑↑

The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon

The first thing I want to address is that in the official blurb and throughout the book, Jack is consistently referred to as male, with male pronouns. That’s because when we meet Jack, “he” is a cisgender, presumably heterosexual teenager. However, for the purpose of this review, I will use the pronoun “they” to refer to Jack because once Jack inhabits the body of Jacqueline, Jack’s perspective and gender identity begin to shift and change subtly and then completely.

When Jack first jumps back in time and appears in Jacqueline’s body, Jack sees themselves as a boy literally trapped in a girl’s body. To clarify, since this is obviously a time travel story, I want to point out that Jacqueline lives during the 1920s in a conservative small town. The blurb neglects to point that out, for some reason! At any rate, the longer Jack spends in Jacqueline’s foreign female body, the more comfortable they feel in that skin and mindset. So much so, in fact, that while Jack is in Jacqueline’s body, they fall in love with a young man named Lucas. Their relationship was a tad insta-love for my taste, but I must admit that it was sweet in its own way.

What I found very interesting was that after falling in love with Lucas, Jack jumps back to the “present” 1980s era and remembers everything that happened while in Jacqueline’s body. The love felt for Lucas was real and naturally transferred over to Jack while in Jack’s body. Initially, they are a little confused by these feelings because Jack has liked girls as far as they were aware, but Jack quickly acknowledges and accepts the love they feel for Lucas without placing any labels on it. I absolutely loved this positive representation of a gender non-binary protagonist!

All of this may seem rather confusing and difficult to grasp, especially Jack/Jacqueline’s shifting gender identity. But that’s what I appreciate most about this novel. Everett Maroon doesn’t attempt to make this exploration of gender palatable for readers, especially cisgender readers. As a cis person myself, I admit that I had a difficult time gathering my thoughts for this review because I did not feel I “got” what the author was trying to say about being transgender or gender non-binary. I was looking for a specific “trans narrative” or experience but that’s not what I got. And thank goodness for that because the last thing I should be doing is trying to fit a group as diverse as transgender people into a single “transgender experience.” I certainly do not think that there is one definitive cis gay experience, so why would think there would be one for trans people? Thankfully, The Unintentional Time Traveler quickly disillusioned me of that notion and challenge me in all the right ways.

There’s much more to the plot than the exploration of gender identity, that’s only a small aspect of it. But the plot is quite convoluted, so if I go into it further I will just end up confusing you. All you have to know is that there is lots of time traveling involved. Jack is eventually able to jump back and forth between the past and “present” and is able to rewrite history with their powers. Yes, it is a power that Jack eventually can control and master! The book is also jam-packed with action and I haven’t even begun to explain the chief conflict driving the story, which I will leave for you to discover on your own.

Much of my focus for this review has been around Jack’s complex gender identity, but I neglected to mention that Jack also has a disability (they have epilepsy) and has two best friends — Jeannine, who is Cuban, and Sanjay who is gay and Indian. This book is essentially about the drama surrounding a white family in the 1980s (and in the past), so I appreciated the inclusion of people of color, even if they weren’t as fleshed out as I wish they had been. 

The Unintentional Time Traveler is book 1 in a series and the author is hard at work on the sequel! This entry into the series can stand on its own, however, so I do recommend it to fans of YA, books filled with adventure, and for those curating a collection of Queer literature. 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Lethe Press, for review consideration.

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The Unintentional Time Traveler

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Other books about time travel you may enjoy:

A Wish After Midnight – by Zetta Elliott

Santa Muerte – by Lucina Stone

Kindred – by Octavia Butler


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43 thoughts on “Review – The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon

  1. Sounds really interesting!

    Shame the official blurb uses sp*zzed to talk about disability though 🙁

    Still, we need books that defy expectations and norms, and this looks like it did that!

    1. Woohoo! Vee from The Gay YA kept gushing about this book so I had to read it! I’d like to read more reviews of this book by trans readers. This book is certainly not a traditional trans narrative, and that’s why I liked it so much.

  2. What a well thought out and conscientious review, Naz!

    Sorry to hear that it was a bit insta-lovey and not as fleshed out for you re: world building and the convoluted nature of the plot, however, I get this sense (or vibe) of magical realism (?) transcending across the time gaps that sounds really wonderful to read into as it takes into account the gender exploration and mental illness key to this story.

    I’ve never heard of this story until now, so thank you for that!

    1. Hi, Joey! 😀
      The insta-love was a little annoying, but it was a minor aspect of the novel, so I was able to overlook it and judge the story on its merits, of which there are many!
      I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of this book, since it’s from a small publisher, but after some financial struggles recently, they seem to be doing a little better and I hope they continue to release innovative books!

  3. This sounds like a really interesting book! I think if I ever come across a copy I’ll definitely have a read – if anything, I love the concept of Jack swapping between the two bodies and times and think that’d be quite a fun journey in and of itself. I’d love to read it to see how the romance works too! Great review ❤️

    1. Thanks, Kristie! This book is by a small press, so I imagine you’d have to see it out yourself. It probably isn’t in many bookstores, especially in Australia! But I’m glad you think it’s interesting. 🙂 Maybe the sequel will make the series more popular and it will be found more easily.

    1. Using gender neutral pronouns felt like the right choice, but I was a little confused, at first, by Jack being referred to with male pronouns and Jacqueline with female pronouns in the book blurb. I guess this makes sense in the beginning of the story, before Jack’s gender identity begins to change. My confusion arose from expecting a traditional trans narrative, with a realization, a coming out, then acceptance and all that. But this book is not that! heh

  4. WOW NAZ!! This sounds like a very interesting book! 🙂 Btw, yes it’s me Trang I’m back on the blogosphere TEEHEE been awhile since I haven’t visited my fellow bloggers out there and I thought of you 😉 I can see that your reviews are still very detailed and amazing as ever ! Very considerate of you to refer as to ”they” :O I’ve never read books about transgenders and I love the theme of time-traveling so this one goes on my TBR list for sure 😀 – Trang

      1. Thank you Naz!! I’ll be back for a while 😀 I wrote some blog posts but never get to really see what other bloggers wrote out there so Im back for good! 😂😃 Pretty busy this fall but it should be back to normal in Winter 😉😉-Trang

  5. This is a book I would love to read! It looks like the author did a great job with the time travel and action as well as the gender situation without categorizing or labelling. I have never read a book about transgenders, I admit I am not familiar with the subject but this book sounds like a must-read. Thoughtful and detailed review, I loved it.

  6. I love time travel. But I think what sounds so good about this book is that it seems to show (without big lectures and brou-ha-ha) how natural it can be for someone to just love someone else, no matter their gender. I’d love for my children to grow up just believing in the right to love someone without having to put people into specific categories. Just from trying to articulate my comment, it’s obviously not something that’s easy to explain in words – so, nice job!

  7. LOVED this review Naz!

    “I certainly do not think that there is one definitive cis gay experience, so why would think there would be one for trans people? Thankfully, The Unintentional Time Traveler quickly disillusioned me of that notion and challenge me in all the right ways.”

    I think we are all guilty of trying to group people into certain “molds.” So happy you had a positive experience with this one. I read a book earlier this year called June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore which had a Transgendered main character. What I loved the most about this book was that it was a historical fiction novel and it did NOT mention the transgendered character in the book blurb. I thought it was wonderful to have a transgendered character without pitching the transgendered in the blurb… if that makes sense.

  8. You have convinced me to read this in the new year! I love how you’ve highlighted the strong points about how identity is explored here. I also need more time-travel books in my life. I plan to read it in January but I read the 1st chapter and found it interesting that Jack was diagnosed with epilepsy as part of his time-travel flashes. It reminded me a little of Nolan’s epileptic fits that would send him to another world in Otherbound (another diverse YA fantasy book – cisgendered main characters but Nolan is a Hispanic amputee & Amara is bisexual and mute).

  9. When I was reading the description, I thought that this book would try to teach a boy what it’s like to live as a girl as a means to achieve empathy–which may be true, but falling in love with Lucas makes the book more complex, from the sounds of your review.

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