Justin never met his grandparents, Veronica and Bill Warren, who died in a fire. He’s reminded of their existence each day because where they perished, the local high school, Stone Lake, was renamed Warren High in their honor. Justin lives with his mother, Millie, who is an alcoholic, and his uncle, Stan, an angry man who makes his nephew’s life a living hell. Each fall, the high school holds a pep rally with a bonfire – ironic since fire was responsible for leveling the earlier structure.
The evening of that celebration, Justin drinks too much and passes out, lying on a bridge in the midst of a rain storm. He’s found by Rose, also a student at Warren High. But Justin and Rose don’t recognize each other for a very good reason – Justin is living in the present, while Rose is living in 1985. Rose is initially reluctant to believe that Justin has traveled from the future, but he reveals just enough about things that are about to happen to win her over. Why is he here? The most obvious answer is to stop the fire and save the lives of his grandparents. The two set out to discover who set the fire and perhaps change the future.
Lauren Thoman (Photo Credit: Amanda McNeal)
To say that Lauren Thoman’s debut novel is a triumph is an understatement. Yes, there are negatives. Clocking in at 427 pages with more than 30 characters, I’ll Stop the World requires a commitment on the part of the reader. The story is told from various points of view, in first and third person. And the time travel part of the story doesn’t turn up until well into this mystery. Once that happens, however, the clock starts ticking and the tension builds. At that point, most readers will find themselves turning pages at a fast clip.
Why are time travel stories so popular? No one can resist the idea of going back into the past to change the course of history. Back to the Future not only made a huge star of Michael J. Fox, but the film, with two sequels, fueled the public’s desire for more. Based on more than 4,500 positive reviews on Amazon, I’ll Stop the World is riding that wave.
Capitalizing on the time travel theme alone, however, is not what makes this novel appealing. Thoman’s characters will resonate with anyone who has struggled to survive high school. (And haven’t we all?) In 1985, teens did not carry around smart phones and have access to the internet. (When Justin asks to use Rose’s phone, he’s shocked when she offers to drive him where he can use a pay phone.) But no matter the time frame, what teens worry about remains the same. Shawn won’t be able to attend college, and escape his abusive father unless he wins a scholarship. Lisa, whose mother is running for mayor, is forced to hide her relationship with Charlene. Rose, in love with Noah, has to watch him date Steph. And Karl is constantly bullied by a trio of thugs in his class, with no one coming to his aid.
While the focus is on the teens, the adults have their issues, too. Rose, who is Asian, and Lisa, who is Black, are part of a blended family, their parents having married after losing spouses. Lisa’s mother, Diane, a librarian, decides to run for mayor, opposed by the town’s sheriff, who runs a testosterone-fueled campaign, supported by the biased local media. When Veronica, serving as Diane’s campaign manager, arranges a photo shoot at a weekend brunch to play up the happy family angle, the plan backfires. The newspapers instead portray the Yin family as being entitled, dining at a fancy, expensive restaurant. Both couples – Diane and Jim and Veronica and Bill – juggle families and jobs. Amazing how so many years later, balancing work and family is still a struggle.
I’ll Stop the World is published by Amazon’s Mindy’s Book Studio, an imprint that promises “emerging and diverse voices.” Mindy Kaling, actor, writer, producer, and director, has now added publisher to her resume. With this debut novel, Mindy’s Book Studio seems to be off to a good start.
I’ll Stop the World
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