Book Review: I’ll Stop the World by Lauren Thoman

The end and the beginning become one in a heart-pounding coming-of-age mystery about the power of friendship, fate, and inexplicable second chances. Read on for John Valeri's review!

Nashville’s Lauren Thoman is an admitted entertainment junkie who studied music education before following the call of pop culture. A passion for watching and analyzing content led her to contribute to such topical forums as Parade, Vulture, Pop Sugar, Looper, and Collider. Thoman recently made her debut as a novelist with the genre-bending I’ll Stop the World, published by Mindy Kaling’s Amazon imprint, Mindy’s Book Studio.

2023: Senior Justin Warren is resigned to living a small life in the town of Stone Lake. Thirty-eight years ago, his grandparents were killed in a fire at the school that now bears his family’s name (and from which he’ll soon graduate after a lackluster academic career)—an event that’s had devastating, decades-long consequences. He shares a home with his alcoholic mother and a distant relation named “Stan,” who is obsessed with the fire and a desire to exonerate the man imprisoned for setting it. Justin works at the local Dollar Tree, harbors secret romantic feelings for his one true friend, Alyssa, and hides behind an air of ambivalence. But a night of drinking and driving will have life-altering consequences after an accident inexplicably transports him back in time.

1985: High schooler Rose Yin is an idealist who, against all logical and rational thought, comes to believe that Justin does indeed belong to a future Stone Lake and has been sent back in time to right the wrongs of the past. But how to explain his presence—especially amid the scrutiny of her stepmother’s optics-driven campaign for mayor? Determined to help him despite innumerable questions and obstacles (including his fatalistic attitude), she nevertheless has her own problems to contend with; Rose is in love with her boy friend (not boyfriend), has drifted from her BFF/stepsister, and is beginning to wonder if, as Justin argues, everything really is beyond meaning and control.  

Thoman introduces her characters in situ before having them converge in the aftermath of Justin’s accident, when readers learn they’ve been existing in separate time periods. While Justin and Rose are pivotal figures, they are but two in a richly developed ensemble that includes children, teens, and adults. Each is integral to the story’s resolution, though the hows and whys remain shrouded in ambiguity until the end; further, they illuminate real-world issues—bullying, gender equality, politics, race, sexuality, and transgenerational trauma among them—that continue to confound, regardless of time and place. Though large in scope, they play out intimately–and against a ticking clock:  Can Justin both solve and stop his grandparents’ deaths to save his own future? Doing so will take belief beyond anything, and anyone, he’s ever known.   

I’ll Stop the World is a refreshingly original and whimsically nostalgic story of time travel. In an age where “the same but different” often reigns supreme, Lauren Thoman unapologetically inhabits her own unconventional (and undeniably pop culture savvy) space. The result is a clever mash-up that’s part coming-of-age story, part whodunit, and whole-hearted love letter to humanity’s capacity for betterment. While mysteries of the universe abound, it’s the internal crises of faith that most resonate. Sometimes being yourself feels like the greatest crime of all. But if you’re lucky, you’ll make a few good friends who will see your potential and help you live up to it.

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