Whether it’s attempting to alter past events or prevent something that’s not yet happened in the future, literature is filled with tales about people with the ability to travel through time. What’s always more interesting with these types of stories is not the actual time travel, but the butterfly effect of rewriting timelines; how each tiny change can result in a different outcome. Rowan Coleman’s The Summer of Impossible Things uses this concept to tell the story of a daughter desperate to save her mother, whatever the cost, even if that cost is her own life.
The story begins in July 2007, as physicist Luna and her recovering alcoholic sister, Pia, arrive in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to settle their late mother’s affairs. They also hope to gain answers about the events that led to their mother’s deep-rooted depression and eventual suicide. It’s whilst retracing her mother’s footsteps that Luna discovers she has the ability to travel through time. But this isn’t the kind of gift that allows her to move through the ages without limits. Luna only travels back to 1997, where her mother is a vibrant and gutsy young woman – not the shell she later becomes.
Luna befriends her mother in the week before her life changed forever and realises that this is her one chance to rewrite history. But there’s a catch: the event that ruined Luna’s mother’s life and drove her to suicide might also be the event that brought Luna into the world – which means if she changes the past, she risks sacrificing her own future. Knowing that her mother’s depression affected her sister’s alcoholism too, Luna takes advantage of the opportunity to make things right for the people she loves.
“If I could change the past and alter the present, I could do anything. Change the course of history, just enough to stop her from doing something unthinkable; something that scarred her forever.”
Moving between 2007 and 1977, the book takes a similar approach to The Time Traveller’s Wife by focusing on the people rather than the science or mysticism of time travel. This is a tale of sacrifice, bravery, friendship and above all else, love; the love between mothers and daughters, the love between sisters, and a love between two strangers from different decades whose hearts transcend the confines of time and age.
This is one instance where the book cover – lovely though it is – doesn’t do the story justice. You’d be forgiven for dismissing The Summer of Impossible Things as standard chick-lit from the outside but it’s a tale that really bursts with genuine heart and emotion. True to the title, it’s full of impossible, incredible things, yet it always stays within the realms of believability, packing in real, affecting and human issues. The flavour of 70s Brooklyn that accompanies Luna’s voyage into the past also provides a great atmosphere and setting – everything from the kids on the sidewalk, to the music and the clothes immersed me in nostalgia.
Coleman has written a story that’s captivating from start to finish, ending with a chapter that will fill your heart with such a lovely feeling of lightness that you’ll want to believe in all impossible things. It might have been published as a summer read but this is the kind of book that will warm your heart during the depths of winter too.
The Summer of Impossible Things was published by Ebury Press on 29 June 2017