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This spoiler-free book review of This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub covers everything from the book’s main themes and plot to favorite quotes from This Time Tomorrow, frequently asked questions about the book and Emma Straub, book club discussion questions, similar books, other books by Emma Straub, and more!
Content warnings: Grief, death of a parent, parental abandonment, miscarriage mentioned, alcohol and drug use
This Time Tomorrow Book Review / Summary
- #1 National Bestseller
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub is definitely one of my favorite reads of 2023. This is a sliding door time travel book about Alice, a forty-year-old woman who’s found her life has turned out a little differently than she expected.
Nothing is terrible—she has a decent job, and she’s not unhappy with her single/dating life. But her father is sick, and she can’t help but wonder if something’s missing.
Growing up, it was always Alice and her father—and her lifelong best friend. But now, on her fortieth birthday, her best friend is busy with her own family, her father is in the hospital, and nothing feels right.
After a solo night of drinking, Alice wakes up the next morning to find herself back in her childhood bedroom, in 1996, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday.
If you’ve ever wondered if there’s anything you would change if you could go back in time, you will be drawn to this book—and Alice’s decisions. As she relives her sixteenth birthday—and her high school crush!—she also sees her young, healthy father with new eyes, appreciating their relationship in the sweetest, most tender way.
This Time Tomorrow is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story about what we’re willing to do to preserve our most cherished moments.
It’s about nostalgia and learning to let go to appreciate what’s in front of you—how the bond between parent and child is elastic, softening and stretching out across years, changing with age and time.
My Thoughts on This Time Tomorrow
If we had the compassion and perspective to see our parents as individuals outside of their role as parents, would our love expand?
If we could go back to dreams we once had, knowing what we know now, would they spark anew? Fizzle out?
These are the questions that kept me turning pages. Emma Straub nailed it. I absolutely adored this book.
Father and Daughter Relationship
First, let me say I loved, loved, loved the father-daughter relationship. Emma Straub perfectly captures the dynamic between a loving father and daughter, without being overly saccharine or too heavy. I fell in love with Leonard and Alice separately, but seeing them together was absolute perfection.
One fascinating part of their dynamic was Leonard’s profession and fame. He was the author of Time Brothers, a famous time travel novel that was turned into a popular TV series.
Emma Straub’s Father
After I read This Time Tomorrow, I found out Emma Straub’s own father was famous horror writer Peter Straub. While he was in and out of the hospital in 2020, he jokingly suggested she write a book about a woman who visits her dad in the hospital.
When I learned how this book came to be and the grief Emma herself experienced, it all made sense why it struck a nerve. This Time Tomorrow and the relationship between Alice and Leonard is deeply intimate and real. There’s courage on the page, and it feels like a gift to be able to read her words in this way.
The Concept of Aging
There’s an aspect to aging that we don’t like to talk about or think about, really, and that’s preparing to lose loved ones in your life. As you get older, it becomes a thought experiment to consider the ripple effects.
What will it be like?
Will we be unanchored in a new way?
Will it change us so much we won’t recognize ourselves? This Time Tomorrow makes grief seem so tangible:
“She understood that it wasn’t actually something one could ever work all the way through, like a jigsaw puzzle or a Rubik’s cube; grief was something that moved in and stayed. Maybe it moved from one side of the room to the over, farther away from the window, but it was always there. . . . Alice thought that it was probably exactly the inverse, the mirror image, of how it felt to be pregnant, and to know that your life would never be the same. A subtraction instead of an addition.”—Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow
There’s also the idea of returning to your youth and appreciating your young body in a new way. Emma Straub does such a good job peeling back the critical teenage mind, reminding us to view our bodies with kindness. And the idea of spending time with a loving parent at the same age you are now . . . oh, it’s just lovely, isn’t it?
Perhaps my favorite thing about This Time Tomorrow is Emma Straub’s whole approach to time travel. This isn’t a science fiction time travel story with complicated explanations.
It feels like literary fiction with a splash of magic—the real world with a magic portal to another time—a sliding door kind of time slip novel that is much more about emotions and character dynamics than plot or scientific logistics.
Don’t get me wrong, I love science fiction, but I was delighted to find a story focused on family and relationships that had time travel in it, not the other way around.
I loved how she left threads for the reader (ahem . . . how old was the cat, now?!). I mean, really . . . who doesn’t want 13 Going on 30, but for adults?
Also, as an editor, I know how hard it is to write a time slip/alternate reality where you have one character returning as herself at different ages. I’ve worked on these types of books before. Emma Straub knocked it out of the park with this, in my opinion:
- “Alice was remembering more. It was like watching someone paint a giant canvas at high speed, all the white getting filled in with details.”
- “She remembered it now. Or part of her did. Alice felt aware of simultaneous thoughts, sort of like when you were driving cross-country and the local radio stations kept flipping back and forth as you moved in and out of range. Her vision was clear, but it was coming from two different feeds. Alice was herself, only herself, but she was both herself then and herself now. She was forty and she was sixteen.”
Favorite Quotes from This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
“Any story could be a comedy or a tragedy, depending on where you ended it. That was the magic, how the same story could be told an infinite number of ways. . . . Happy endings were too much for some people, false and cheap, but hope—hope was honest. Hope was good.—Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow
“It was the worst fact of parenthood, that what you did mattered so much more than anything you said.”—Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow
“Maybe that was the trick to life: to notice all the tiny moments in the day when everything else fell away and, for a split second, or maybe even a few seconds, you had no worries, only pleasure, only appreciation of what was right in front of you. Transcendental meditation, maybe, but with hot dogs and the knowledge that everything would change, the good and the bad, and so you might as well appreciate the good.”—Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow
“What a very long time one had to be an adult, after rushing through childhood and adolescence. There should be several more distinctions: the idiocy of the young twenties, when one was suddenly expected to know how to do adult things; the panicked coupling of the mid- and late twenties, when marriages happened as quickly as a game of tag; the sitcom mom period, when you finally had enough food in your freezer to survive for a month if necessary; the school principal period, when you were no longer seen as a woman at all but just a vague nagging authority figure. If you were lucky, there was the late-in-life sexy Mrs. Robinson period, or an accomplished and powerful Meryl Streep period, followed, of course, by approximately two decades of old-crone-hood. . . . It wasn’t fair to call it a fountain of youth—nothing could make you feel ancient and crumbling faster than a cruel word from a teenager—but even so, being around young people kept the heart healthy and the mind open.”—Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow
“Teenage girls’ skeletons were half bones and half secrets that only other teenage girls knew.”—Emma Straub, This Time Tomorrow
Frequently Asked Questions about This Time Tomorrow
How many pages is This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub?
This Time Tomorrow is 336 pages, published on May 16, 2023, from Penguin Publishing Group.
Who narrates This Time Tomorrow?
My favorite narrator! Marin Ireland narrates This Time Tomorrow. <3
What kind of books does Emma Straub write?
Emma Straub writes mostly literary fiction, but she’s also written nonfiction stories and essays.
Who is Emily Straub’s father?
Emily Straub’s father was Peter Straub, horror and suspense novelist, who died in September 2022.
What is the book This Time Tomorrow about?
This Time Tomorrow is about a woman named Alice on her fortieth birthday. Confronted with the realities of her ailing father, Alice wonders how her life might have been different. When she wakes up the next day, she’s somehow stumbled back into 1996, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday.
What surprises her most—other than the obvious shock of her adolescent body and teenage crush—is her healthy, vibrant father, Leonard: a famous author of a time travel book that turned into a popular TV series during her childhood.
Does she try to alter the course of his life and save him? Will it even make a difference? This Time Tomorrow is about mortality, the parent-child relationship, and what it looks like to appreciate what’s right in front of you.
What genre is Emma Straub?
Mostly literary fiction, but Emma Straub also writes nonfiction and personal essays for a variety of publications.
Book Club Discussion Questions for This Time Tomorrow
- Ice breaker question: If you could travel back in time for a day, would you do it? If so, what day?
- One person Alice is excited to see again as her sixteen-year-old self is her high school crush, Tommy. Her feelings about him change throughout the course of the book. What does Alice learn about herself through her relationship with Tommy?
- Sammy and Alice are lifelong best friends, and Emma Straub shows different facets of their friendship through teenage years and adulthood. How did their friendship grow and change? What did you notice about their friendship?
- How did you feel about Leonard’s parenting style when Alice was young? How do you think it affected her as an adult?
- Alice is surrounded by teenagers all day at her place of work, Belvedere, the prestigious private school in New York City that she attended as a young girl. How does Alice’s perspective on youth, wealth, status, and Belvedere change when she returns to her teenage self?
- What did you like or dislike about the time travel element? What worked for you and/or what didn’t?
- How did you feel about the pivotal part of the book when Alice is desperately flip-flopping between her forty-year-old life and her sixteen-year-old life, trying to change the trajectory of her adult reality?
Other Books by Emma Straub
- Very Good Hats (picture book)
- All Adults Here
- Modern Lovers
- The Vacationers
- Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures
- Other People We Married
Aside from her books, Emma Straub has written several stories, essays, and anthologies for a number of publications.
Similar Books to This Time Tomorrow
These titles explore similar themes or are reminiscent of This Time Tomorrow in some way:
- In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
- Happy Place by Emily Henry
- Flying Solo by Linda Holmes
- Oona, Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
- Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Buy the Book
I recommend This Time Tomorrow if you already love time slip / alternate reality stories, and especially if you like to read about nostalgia and family dynamics. There are certainly heavier themes, but this is such an easy book to devour.
If you’re a sensitive reader or have recently experienced the death of a parent, I would tread lightly with this one. Emma Straub isn’t for everyone, but I am in love with her writing style. Let me know if you read it and love it, won’t you?