Niffenegger, A. (2003). The Time Traveler’s Wife. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Books.
Genre: Crossover, Romance
Reading level/ interest age: 17+
Henry is a librarian with an unusual problem unlike anyone else he has ever met. Against his will, he travels through time to different periods throughout his life. These trips can last several days to several weeks with no way of knowing when he will come back or leave again. Worst of all, when Henry arrives, he cannot even take his clothes with him!
One day, a beautiful woman named Clare comes into the library. They speak for a while and later Henry travels back in time to meet her as a little girl. Clare seems to keep drawing him backward and Henry eventually gives her a diary of all the dates, times, and places he will appear. Their relationship is strange as the Clare in the past grows up meeting him periodically throughout her life up to her eighteenth birthday. Suddenly, Henry’s visits stop up to their meeting in her present, the library.
From then on, the Henry in the present has no knowledge of her. He makes quite a few mistakes which frustrate Clare but they quickly fall in love. Except, Henry still cannot control when he leaves which scares Clare as she spends many nights alone worrying about him. Being the wife of a time traveler is not all that it is cracked up to be. Even if Clare has known him her whole life.
When you fall in love with someone who time travels, can you love them throughout all their years? How would it feel to always be the one left behind?
Information about the author:
“Audrey Niffenegger is a professor in the M.F.A. program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. The Time Traveler's Wife, her first novel, was published in 2004. In 2005, she published an illustrated story: Three Incestuous Sisters. Her Fearful Symmetry, Niffenegger's third book, was published in 2009. Niffenegger lives in Chicago.
“Niffenegger's love of writing developed when she was a young girl, quietly spending her time writing and illustrating books as a hobby. Her wonderfully eccentric imaginativeness was in play from her earliest writing efforts. ‘My ‘first' novel was an epic about an imaginary road trip [sic] I went on with The Beatles," she explains on her website, ‘handwritten in turquoise marker, seventy pages long, which I wrote and illustrated when I was eleven’” (Litlovers.com, 2014).
Curriculum ties: N/A
1. Would you want Henry’s ability with all of its faults?
2. Would you want to marry Henry when he can leave at any time?
The Time Traveler’s Wife is an interesting read because it uses alternating perspectives from the two main characters, Henry and Clare. At one point in the story, Clare compares herself to Penelope, waiting for Odysseus, in a form of literary allusion. However, I found their relationship to be more borderline Oedipal as Henry watches his wife grow up from childhood. She worships him like a god and Henry turns out to be a better father figure in her life than her blood dad.
Mostly, this is a book of loss. Clare grows through an interesting transformation of character development from a carefree rich girl to a worrisome, lonely wife. She battles with time itself throughout the entirety of the book which makes the reader feel almost as tired as Clare does. When Clare finally becomes close to accepting her decision to marry a flawed man, Henry is ripped into one of his final travels. He comes back mutilated and suffers an amputation which leaves him helpless. Clare becomes despondent and must deal with the final theme of the book: loss and letting go.
Overall, the mood of the book is depressing. Henry can never control his traveling and just when Clare believes she has found happiness in her child, the denouement occurs when Henry and Clare find out that their daughter is a time traveler too. Clare practically withers before the reader’s eyes and this is when I finally stopped feeling sorry for her. She chose to marry a man she knew had a flaw. Clare’s development as a strong character never reaches fulfillment as she can never shake her selfishness.
Challenge issues: N/A
Though set in an impossible situation, The Time Traveler’s Wife tells an honest truth about marriage. I included the book because I want teens to know that love though beautiful, also means sacrifice. A person has to fight to maintain a relationship and it is not always pretty. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a great crossover that is an easy and quick read that I think teens will enjoy because the ending is not a typical happy one.
Litlovers.com. (2014). Time Traveler's Wife (Niffenegger) - Author Bio. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from