‘Hazards of Time Travel’ by Joyce Carol Oates – Book Review

Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates is my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. It might be my favorite of Oates’ books so far, too.

The story follows Adrienne Stohl, a seventeen-year-old living in New Jersey in a dystopian future, as the government punishes her for asking questions in her valedictorian speech. The punishment is a sentence of exile that she is to serve out at a college in 1959 in Wainscotia, Wisconsin, cut off from all contact with her family and assuming a new identity altogether.

The book was a quick and easy read with enough open ended-ness and unsettling details about both America’s “past” and the future under the reorganized government, where everyone is watched and asking too many questions could result in one’s exile (or deletion, which is just as it sounds.)

While the plot interested me to begin with, Oates’ writing style truly shines and I felt completely invested in every facet of the protagonist’s story. Whether Adrienne, or rather, Mary Ellen as she was known in Wisconsin (aka Zone Nine), was working through an unexpected romance she hoped to pursue with a professor, or trying to piece together memories of her family that were taken from her during the transition, I was invested in her throughout the book.

I was surprised when I went to rate Hazards of Time Travel on GoodReads to learn that as of this writing, it only has a 2.97 rating. I’ve seen some critiques that it reads a bit like a young adult book, but I don’t necessarily see that as a negative. (Perhaps that’s even as it should be, it is told from the point of view of a high school senior/college freshman after all.)

I think if you already know that you like reading novels about dystopian futures, or if you are looking to give this kind of story a try without something that isn’t too preachy (or directly tied to current political predicaments, again at least in an overly preachy sort of way) this might be one to try. It held my interest throughout and I finished it within just a couple of days. 5/5.

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