I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.
Adriane Strohl is a seventeen-year-old high-school senior living in a not-too-distant future version of America, the Reconstituted North American States (NAS), which seems to have involved incorporating the U.S. and Canada under an increasingly totalitarian regime where there is a single political party--the Patriot Party--and with presidential elections where only the very rich get to vote, by selecting an emoji that represents the one candidate up for "election."
In this world, Adriane has received the exciting news that she is the recipient of a prestigious Patriot Scholarship, as well as having achieved the honor of serving as valedictorian for her class. But her prospects take a frightening turn when, because her speech draft is a series of questions she feels her teachers and principal should answer, she is arrested as a "subversive" during graduation rehearsal. As punishment, she is designated an EI: exiled individual. Her four-year exile is to take place not only in a different place, but in a different time. From the year NAS 23 (years having been renumbered based on September 11, 2001) in Pennsboro, N.J., Adriane is transported back to September of 1959, where she has a four-year scholarship to Wainscotia State University in Wainscotia Falls, Wisconsin. She has been assigned a new identity--Mary Ellen Enright--tragically, a double orphan, whose adoptive parents died in a vague accident. Mary Ellen Enright is not permitted to speak to anyone of her "Adriane Strohl" identity, her exile, nor her life in the "future." She is not allowed to seek out fellow EI's.
Before long, Adriane/Mary Ellen comes to realize that the assistant professor assigned to her quiz section of the Psychology 101 class she taking, Ira Wolfman, is also a mysterious double orphan, and they come to forge a risky secret alliance.
I love me some Joyce Carol Oates, and for much of this book, I just kind of shook my head and marveled that Oates can bust out a book in any genre she chooses. Dystopian Sci-Fi? Sure thing, coming right up! Adrian/Mary Ellen adjusting to and reacting to the world of Midwestern 1959-1960 was handled with wit and humor. I could relate, for instance, to her disgust and wonder that so many people casually smoked, apparently innocent of the cancer connection, while expecting non-smokers to be apologetic about their coughing discomfort.
For most of this book, I was on my way to five-starring--which is a rating I seldom issue. But in the last 20-ish percent of the book, the narrative took a turn that led to an ending that felt unsatisfying to me. It partly feels like a cop-out and partly feels maddeningly unfinished.
But despite all that? I STILL think it's worth reading. Prepare to not necessarily have things wrap up as you might hope or expect, but also enjoy the ride and the journey into Oates's imagination.