One moment, Jessie’s life is going swimmingly. The next, she finds herself drowning. Literally. The plane she is on — the one heading to Paris where she is going to celebrate her graduation, where she is going to eat, drink, make love, and live life to the fullest — crashes into the Atlantic Ocean. The water is cold and it’s hard to breathe. It would be easy to give up, to let the waves take her down, to let the blackness swallow her whole, but Jessie’s never been one to give up. Instead, she fights, clawing her way to the surface, taking back every breath the ocean tries to steal from her. And Jessie lives.
She is the only survivor.
Of the hundreds of men, women, and children, Jessie is the only one pulled from the ocean. But this isn’t her ocean. Instead, Jessie finds herself in the year 1805, rescued by the handsome Captain Francis Goodenough and his ship, the Lyre. A wooden ship. With sails. There’s no engine, no hidden cameras, no wifi, nothing. In all the ways she could be, Jessie is at sea. Alone and friendless, with no way to care for herself, Jessie finds herself forced to rely upon the decency and kindness of Captain Goodenough, who just so happens to be the brother of none other than Margaret Goodenough, an author who wrote the first lesbian kiss in British literature, who chose not to marry, but instead retired to the country with her female companion and began the “lesbian romance literature renaissance.”
And Jessie is going to get to meet her!
I wish I could give more than five stars to this book. While this should be — and could be, and is — a light-hearted romance portal fantasy about a girl from modern days swept back to the 1800s, this is also a thoughtful look at what it would mean to suddenly find yourself in a completely different time. Jessie, dealing with survivor’s guilt, with her near drowning, with broken fingers and shock, isn’t in the mood to change the world. She wants to go home. She wants her parents. She wants television and tomatoes, to go to Paris, and to turn on her phone. What she doesn’t want is to eat over-boiled vegetables, to be trapped into a loveless marriage simply so that she has a roof over her head. She doesn’t want to be here.
The story, told from Jessie’s point of view and in Jessie’s voice, is beautifully researched. The actions and conversations of the characters feel real and grounded in the 1800s, and they respond to Jessie’s informal and entirely modern way of speaking — rightly — as though she’s being strange. And a bit vulgar. They expect her to know more than she does and are shocked, amused, or even disdainful when she doesn’t. They find a box for her to fit in and get angry when she doesn’t. But she tries. Jessie, accepting that there’s no magical way back, does her best to do what she should. She gets along, she tries to help. She cooks, tidies, and makes peace where she can. But she also stands up for herself. She’s a bisexual woman (and I loved bifi, which I’d never heard of) who wants to kiss girls, who wants to fall in love with a woman, and isn’t ashamed of it. When she and Margaret find an understanding in one another, Jessie is willing to let it remain a simple friendship. She doesn’t want to push, and knowing — as most modern people do, thanks to television, movies, books, comics, and memes — that she can’t just muck about in the timeline, is reluctant to be more than friends.
But she can’t help falling in love with Margaret. And when Margaret kisses her back, Jessie is lost. Willingly, joyfully lost.
I loved the writing. I loved the characters. I loved the world building. This story is a bit of a slow burn as Jessie deals with her new life and coming to terms with it in fits and starts; it’s no simple one week of sobbing and then she’s done. Throughout the book, there are moments when the grief hits her. There are scenes of abuse, when Jessie is attacked and beaten, but it’s done only to advance the story, not to torment the character. Bad things happen, but so do good ones, and for all that this is a 330+ page book, I wish it had been longer.
If you like historicals, time travel fantasies, regencies, love stories, and good books — do give this one a try. This book will definitely be on my top 10 of the year.