Now & Then centers around Anna O’Shea, a thirtysomething woman who’s recently lost both her job and her marriage. After returning from a long trip to England, Anna receives a phone call that her brother has been in a horrible accident and is in the hospital. When she arrives at the hospital, she is told that her nephew, Joseph, has just been brought to a juvenile hall facility and that since his father is in a coma, Anna must go bail him out. After Anna and Joseph return home, Anna wakes during the night to find Joseph going through her suitcase. When she confronts him and tries to grab something out of his hands, they are both wrenched backwards in time… to nineteenth-century Ireland. Anna ends up in a very poor part of Ireland, and although she makes some amazing friendships, she begins to shrink from the intense hunger and hardship she faces there. Joseph, on the other hand, ends up in a well-to-do family and he is soon a star within that family – adored and respected by many people – very different from his life back home. But Anna knows that as much as she loves the people she’s found in the past, she must get herself and Joseph back to the present. They belong back home, whether they like it or not, and she needs to find a way to get them there.
I actually had no idea this book was about time travel when I agreed to review it. I was thinking it was about a dog, actually, which it’s not (at all). But that’s okay – it ended up being an enjoyable read all the same.
What I enjoyed most about Now & Then was the peek into life in 1840’s Ireland. I always enjoy historical fiction, and even though this really isn’t historical fiction, it has that flair of history which I really liked. It was interesting to see the differences between the life Anna found in Ireland and the life Joseph found. They didn’t land too far apart distance-wise, but the differences between the ways the two families lived were shocking. I felt that Sheehan handled the time travel aspect pretty well. She did a good job making Anna’s feelings about the fact that she traveled in time believable – at first, Anna didn’t believe it herself, but she was finally forced to realize the truth of what happened, and when she accepted it, she was careful not to “mess with” time – not to tell her friends anything about the future, not to scare them too much, etc. The most heartbreaking thing was that Anna knew that the famous Irish potato famine would occur in just one short year from the time she was there, yet she couldn’t tell anyone because she was so afraid of the consequences of tampering with history. I just wanted her to tell one person, just so that this family she became so close with would be safe from the terrible disaster that was to come.
Another aspect of Now & Then that really kept me reading was the love that Anna found in Ireland. I just love a sweet, well-written love story, and this one definitely fit the bill. It was heartbreaking watching Anna understand that it was her destiny to leave 1844 Ireland, even though she had found such love and friendship there.
There were a few drawbacks to the book, I must admit. I did not really get involved in the story until almost halfway through, for one. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it hadn’t been sent by an author for review. Once I did get invested, I was glad that I kept reading, but still – I like to be sucked into a story by page 50 or so. I also didn’t really connect with the characters. I enjoyed reading about them, especially about the love story, but I didn’t connect with them personally. I only started to care about Anna towards the end, which for me isn’t too great. While the concept of time travel was done pretty well, I’ve read books where it was done better, so I couldn’t help comparing Now & Then to other stories I’ve read in the past. Still, it was an enjoyable read and I did speed through it once I reached about the halfway mark. Even with my misgivings about it, I would recommend the book to people who enjoy a good women’s fiction read.