I won a lovely ARC of this Jodi Lynn Anderson title at the Pinecrest YA Bookclub’s anniversary meeting. I had to pick among a few titles, which was difficult, but Midnight at the Electric won me over with the promise of interlocking narratives.
In 2065, introverted Adri prepares to set out on a colonization mission to Mars. While she stays with a previously unknown cousin, she prepares for her journey to space. But weeks before launch she finds the journal of a girl who lived in her cousin’s house more than a hundred years ago and is drawn into her story.
In 1934, Catherine and her family are struggling amid the uncertainty of the Dust Bowl. With their home and lives at risk, she must face her fears and decide if she can sacrifice everything she knows to preserve the health of the one she loves.
In 1919, England is recovering from the first World War. Lenore finds refuge from grief with the help of an unexpected and mysterious guest. Though he makes her question her resolve, Lenore dreams of voyaging to America to reunite with her childhood friend.
The fates of Adri, Catherine, and Lenore are linked in a tale that explores love, loss, and determination.
Let’s get into it…
I was really digging the Mars timeline when I read the back cover (who doesn’t like space travel, amiright?). But, when I started reading I found myself a little disappointed with the opening Adri chapters. The 2065 setting had all the hallmarks of not-so-distant-future-dom: fancy electronic car, food printing, colonization of Mars. I was waiting for something new. But what I learned as I read on was that there’s a reason there isn’t a focus on unique sci-fi world building: Midnight at the Electric is not a sci-fi story. It’s a story about humanity, about what connects us. Thus, the novels intermingling of different time periods is where its strength truly lies.
Like Adri, I was easily drawn into Catherine’s story. I’d heard of the Dust Bowl, but my knowledge of it was limited to mentions of it in larger discussions of the Great Depression. I’d never considered the health threats that might come from the constant dust in the air. Catherine’s concern for her sister was endearing, and I actually rooted for her romance with Ellis (something I rarely do). Her desperation and her hope drove me on, leading me to…
Lenore. Her narrative, told in the epistolary format, was yet another twist. With World War I over, there’s less immediate danger than in Catherine’s life, yet Lenore seems similarly conflicted. She carries her grief and her dreams side by side. This places her in an intriguing emotional space, which influences the relationship she forms with James.
I read this novel in a single day. Aside from the fact that it’s a short-ish book, it’s easy to zoom through because you can’t help wanting to know how the three timelines are related. Even if there weren’t any ties between the three female protagonists, I’d still have been curious about a Galapagos tortoise’s being present in Kansas.
While the characters and the story within a story within a story aspect certainly kept me going, Jodi Lynn Aderson’s decision to use three different narrative forms also impressed me. Adri’s story is third person limited narration while Catherine and Lenore tell their own tales through journal entries and letters, respectively. The mix of these makes for an entertaining read. Props to the author for a successful experiment in form.
Final thoughts: Midnight at The Electric is a mashup in many senses. Its mix of timelines and narrative formats drives the plot forward, making it a quick, fun read. It’s got something for everyone – a touch of mystery, some sci-fi and history, and a few heartfelt and courageous female characters.