When I was a kid, my mom was obsessed with the movie Somewhere In Time - a time travel infused romance starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour (plus there's an extradorinaiy performance from Christopher Plummer as the villain). The film opens with playwright Richard Collier, (Reeve) celebrating at an opening night cast party, when an elderly woman makes her way through the crowd, takes Collier by the hands and earnestly whispers, “come back to me.” Years later, despondent and suffering from writer’s block, Collier hops in his convertible and hits the road, eventually finding himself at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan. There he becomes fascinated by a photo of Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), a now deceased, turn-of-the-century stage actress, who Collier can’t help but feel like he’s met before. Several time traveling twists and turns later, and… boom! you guessed it! Not only is Elise McKenna, indeed, the woman who crashed Richard Collier’s cast party 8 years prior, but she and Collier are actually star-crossed lovers who have been separated by almost a century thanks to the cruel whims of time.
In order for this film to work, (and this movie is a masterpiece, y’all. I don’t care what Rotten Tomatoes says), viewers have to believe that love is strong enough to thwart the ever marching tick of time. What’s more, we have to see, in our two lovers, a connection so strong and so true that it confounds the laws of nature. Somewhere In Time works, because we want love to be stronger than the one thing we can’t stop from moving forward. It works, because the filmmakers created characters who feel strong and true enough to disrupt time itself. Elise McKenna and Richard Collier are those characters.
And so are Evan Taft and Shosh Bell from David Arnold’s I Loved You In Another Life.
Following his father’s abandonment and his mother’s cancer diagnosis, Evan Taft finds himself paralyzed by panic attacks - which he refers to as storms. Chatting with his therapist, Evan put it this way:
"...panic felt too feeble a word, and attack felt too familiar... It shouldn't be called what it is, it should be called what it feels like. When Maya asked what it felt like, I said the only word I could think of that came close to describing the vast uncontrollable nature of what was happening inside my body: 'storms.'"
As his hope for the future begins to atrophy, Evan convinces himself that he must give up on his dream of a gap year in Alaska, and a future as an artist, in order to protect his family - particularly his younger brother, Will, (who presents as potentially autistic). Evan and Will share a bond that revolves, in part, around another star-crossed love story of sorts: the Steven Spielberg 80s classic: E.T.. Every Tuesday since their father left, Will and Evan share “bubba nights,” where they order pizza and watch E.T.. The film, and so many of its lessons, become a poetic and important thread throughout the book, offering wisdom to both its characters and its readers.
"Their hearts light up. Bright red. It's part of how they communicate, E.T. and the other aliens. First time we watched it, Will said it reminded him of us. We were on the floor, back against the couch, an open box of pizza on the coffee table. When the little alien hearts lit up, Will didn't miss a beat. 'It's like us,' he said. 'My heart glows to you. And yours glows to me.'"
Across town, recent high school graduate Shosh Bell is equally lost. Following the death of her older sister, and best friend, Stevie, Shosh finds comfort in alcohol and increasingly outrageous/dangerous behavior. After planning their lives together, the loss of Stevie makes everything, from pursuing her acceptance to a prestigious acting program at USC, to simply facing the world without a drink in her hand, feel impossible. For years, Shosh and Stevie planned to get sister tattoos: one featuring Frog and the other Toad, with the phrase, “alone together” beneath their favorite childhood book characters.
"'I always pictured us getting them together. Our chairs next to each other, so we could see the progress.' Shosh looked down at her tattoo. 'They were two close friends sitting alone together.' Our favorite line from our favorite story. Those two words --- 'alone together' --- they were supposed to go here.'"
After Stevie’s death, however, Shosh feels unprepared to face a world in which she is simply alone. Her one tether to a life outside the bottle lies in her former Drama teacher, Ms. Clark, whose support keeps Shosh from completely drowning in grief.
"Shosh felt the cold metal of the flask in her coat pocket and wondered how long before she could drain what was left. I could just leave, she thought, drink the day away, but then Ms. Clark''s arm was around her, and Shosh was leaning her head onto her teacher's shoulder. Tucked in the safety of the swan's wing."
For much of the book, Evan and Shosh are strangers connected only by tragedy, trauma and a shared home town - until, one day, they both begin hearing mysterious and haunting music that no one else can hear. Slowly, the lyrics to each song begin to reveal instructions and locations that, eventually, bring them together. Just as the two characters are discovering one another, interstitial chapters unspool the possibility that Evan and Shosh have been looking for one another for centuries and across historical eras and continents - each vignette ending in tragedy as the two lovers are pulled from one another again and again.
"Come back to me." - Elise McKenna
"I'll find you." - Evan Taft
If you've read any of David Arnold's other books, Mosquitoland, Kids of Appetite, The Electric Kingdom or The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, then perhaps it goes without saying that this book is as beautiful as it is surprising. Arnold's prose are moving and poignant. The story, unexpected and entirely captivating. To be clear, I Loved You In Another Life will break your heart, but it will do it in the same way that Somewhere In Time and E.T. break it. Rather than denying the cruel, inevitability of time, these stories affirm our hope in the one thing that is stronger: love.
Bonus Content: if you haven’t read David Arnold’s essay about I Loved You In Another Life for SLJ, go do that now. But, fair warning, you’re gonna need some tissues!
Publication: Oct. 10, 2023
Audience: Evan and Shosh are high school seniors and recent graduates, respectively. I think this book is best suited for readers in grades 10 and above.