Title: She Wouldn’t Change a Thing
Author: Sarah Adlakha
Publisher: Forge Books
Publication date: August 10, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction/time travel
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Sliding Doors meets Life After Life in Sarah Adlakha’s story about a wife and mother who is given the chance to start over at the risk of losing everything she loves.
A second chance is the last thing she wants.
When thirty-nine year old Maria Forssmann wakes up in her seventeen-year-old body, she doesn’t know how she got there. All she does know is she has to get back: to her home in Bienville, Mississippi, to her job as a successful psychiatrist and, most importantly, to her husband, daughters, and unborn son.
But she also knows that, in only a few weeks, a devastating tragedy will strike her husband, a tragedy that will lead to their meeting each other.
Can she change time and still keep what it’s given her?
Exploring the responsibilities love lays on us, the complicated burdens of motherhood, and the rippling impact of our choices, She Wouldn’t Change a Thing is a dazzling debut from a bright new voice.
In She Wouldn’t Change a Thing, time travel is less a fantasy element and more of a nightmarish trap that sends a person back into their own earlier life.
Maria is close to her due date for her third child, married mostly happily but also incredibly frazzled, mother to two adorable daughters, and a successful psychiatrist, when a strange new patient shows up in her office. Sylvia comes with disjointed warnings and rambles on about having a purpose. She gives Maria a warning about her own life, and tries to gain Maria’s understanding — but Maria naturally sees Sylvia as delusional and offers medication and follow-up visits.
Later, Maria learns that Sylvia has killed herself, and has left a note for Maria. She can’t shake Sylvia’s words, and despite knowing she should ignore the warning, follows up. I won’t go into details on what happens next, but after a terrible encounter, Maria wakes to find that she’s back in her childhood home, in her 17-year-old body.
Completely frantic, Maria’s parents believe she’s having a breakdown, and Maria soon finds herself confined to a psych ward. Maria knows that she’s not schizophrenic, but who would believe a teen girl who claims to be a pregnant 39-year-old needing to return to her husband and children?
Time travel in this book, as we learn, is typically triggered by a death or a violent event which propels the person back to an earlier point in their lives — with a purpose. There’s something they have to accomplish, and it’s typically at great cost. For Maria, once she realizes her purpose, there’s an understanding that accomplishing her purpose will change events so completely that she and her husband will never meet. And while she thinks she may have a way to get back to her own life, it would mean ignoring this purpose, and ignoring the chance to save an innocent life. She has to decide — does she give up her “real” life to do the right thing, or put her need to be back with her family above everything else?
I’m a fan of well-conceived time travel plots, and can even accept far-fetched scenarios — but something about this concept of being sent back with a purpose really set my nerves on edge. I suppose if you believe in higher beings and deities and predestination, maybe this might be more appealing, but for me, it just smacks of quasi-religious mumbo jumbo.
There’s no good “why” to all of this. Okay, fine, there’s a purpose… but why these people and not others? Why doesn’t every unfair death get deleted and reversed? Why isn’t the world overrun with people from the future?
In Maria’s story, there are overlaps and revisions in her life, and we see characters from her own time transformed and changed by the actions she takes once she goes back. Some of the convergences are interesting, but for the most part, most of this plot felt forced and illogical to me.
As I said, I love a good time travel story. Sure, I can buy the idea of a woman wandering into a stone circle and being transported 200 years back in time (as happens in a certain favorite series…), but in She Wouldn’t Change a Thing, the mechanics and reasons and the higher purpose elements of the story just didn’t work for me at all.
Beyond the plot falling flat for me, the writing style is often awkward and clunky, and certain lines and stylistic choices took me right out of the plot. Overall, not a great reading experience for me… your mileage may vary.
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