Perfect for fans of They Both Die at the End and You’ve Reached Sam, this gripping, atmospheric YA novel follows a teen with a mysterious condition that transports her to the past when she smells certain scents linked to specific memories.
Seventeen-year-old Aimee Roh has Sensory Time Warp Syndrome, a rare condition that causes her to time travel to a moment in her life when she smells something linked to that memory. Her dad is convinced she’ll simply grow out of it if she tries hard enough, but Aimee’s fear of vanishing at random has kept her from living a normal life.
When Aimee disappears for nine hours into a memory of her estranged mom—a moment Aimee has never remembered before—she becomes distraught. Not only was this her longest disappearance yet, but the memory doesn’t match up with the story of how her mom left—at least, not the version she’s always heard from her dad.
Desperate for answers, Aimee travels to Korea, where she unravels the mystery of her memories, the truth about her mother, and the reason she keeps returning to certain moments in her life. Along the way, she realizes she’ll need to reconcile her past in order to save her present.
From acclaimed author Sarah Suk comes an aching, powerful exploration of memory, grief, and the painful silences we must overcome to discover our truest selves.
Release date: October 31, 2023
Print pages: 320
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The Space between Here & Now
It’s not easy explaining what it feels like to disappear in ten words or less.
The closest way I can describe it is the feeling of walking up the stairs in the dark—maybe in the middle of the night when you’re on your way back to bed after using the bathroom or stumbling home from a party, too drunk to find the light switch—and thinking there’s one less step than there is. Your foot plummets through thin air, your stomach goes with it, and in my case, the rest of your body follows.
There one second. Gone the next.
But that’s not ten words, and ten words max is all I have with Appa before he starts to get that look in his eye, the look that says, I’m here but not really here. He does that a lot. Goes to this place inside his head where I can’t follow.
I lie on my bed, fully dressed, 7:07 a.m., practicing how I want to tell him what I want to tell him in a way that’ll make him listen. Really listen. I’ve been thinking about it since yesterday, when Disappearance Number Nine happened. “He’s your dad,” Nikita reminded me. “Of course he’ll listen.”
Easy for Nikita to say. She has breakfast every Sunday with her own dad, eating scones spread with their homemade blueberry jam. Nikita’s my best friend and I love her, but I also know Appa. I close my eyes, try to picture us making jam together.
Impossible. My brain literally can’t compute it.
I go back to counting words on my hands, fingers going up and then back down like I’m mapping out the syllables of a haiku. But I’m not trying to write poetry. I’m just trying to figure out a way to talk to my dad.
“Appa, I need to tell you . . . No, no. So, funny story! Wait, no. No useless intros. Straight to the point, Aimee, straight to the point.”
I recite until at last, I think I’ve got it. I roll out of bed and strap my film camera over my shoulder, grab my backpack, palms sweaty, and head to the kitchen.
He’s sitting at the table, already deep in his weekday morning ritual when I walk in. Coffee in the same green mug with the spider crack along the handle, scrolling through the news on his phone, eating a bowl of cereal. Today it’s Special K, the vanilla almond kind. Our pantry is full of cereal boxes (courtesy of Appa), arranged by box color (courtesy of me). My mom used to call it our cereal library. It’s one of the few things that hasn’t changed since she left.
“Morning, Aimee,” he says, not looking up from his phone.
I jump straight to it, not wasting time.
“It happened again yesterday.”
His fingers pause over his screen. He looks up.
In his face, I see my own thick eyebrows, round nose, slightly crooked mouth. People always say how much I look like my dad. You are your father’s daughter! The expression in his eyes, though, is unreadable. Concern, maybe? Yes, actually, he does look kind of worried. He’s sitting straighter now, more attentive. A balloon of hope rises in my chest. He’s listening.
“You vanished?” he asks.
We speak in a mix of English and Korean, but he says this word in Korean.
“When? At school?”
“Lunchtime. For two minutes.”
Damn it. I’ve gone off script from what I practiced, and I realize too late that I’ve used up all my words. Almost as if on cue, Appa’s shoulders relax and his eyes drift back to his phone.
“Okay. Two minutes is nothing. Good thing you didn’t miss any of your classes.”
The balloon in my chest pops.
Untrue, by the way. Two minutes is not nothing. In that time, you can make a cup of tea. Meet the love of your life. Take a photo. No, fifty photos. In two minutes, you can disappear in the middle of having lunch with your best friend on the school bleachers and end up traveling back in time, stuck in a memory until you’re sent back to where you belong like a tennis ball being lobbed back and forth between the present and the past.
“It’s not nothing,” I say. My voice clips with frustration. “This is the third time this year it’s happened, and I never disappear this often.” I swallow hard, knuckles going white around my backpack straps. “I need help. I think we should look into a specialist.”
The words drop between us, heavy. He looks up again and for the briefest of seconds, I think I’ve gotten through to him. There’s a flicker of acknowledgment on his face, a shutter lens opening to see the light. But then he smiles in a way that’s meant to be reassuring and says, “I told you, Aimee. You’ll grow out of it one day. You’re only, what—seventeen? This is a phase. You don’t need a specialist. In the meantime, you have to try harder not to give in to the temptation. Okay?”
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. Maybe it’s because I’ve surpassed my word limit.
Snapshot: Appa and me, locked in a staring contest. Coffee steam, refrigerator hum, the alphabet shriveling up in my brain. Nothing but sand in my head, stretching for miles and miles.
“Now, aren’t you going to eat?” He nods at the table, where he’s set out an empty bowl and spoon for me, next to the carton of 2 percent milk.
My frustration builds into anger, pressing against the hollow of my throat. Is this how he’s going to end the conversation? I consider walking out right now in protest, turning my back on both him and my cereal bowl, maybe even slamming the door on my way out so he’ll have to pay attention and take me seriously.
But he looks so hopeful, like he’s saying, Please. Let’s just get back to our morning routine. Cereal and silence. Like father, like daughter, right?
No matter how disappointed I feel, I don’t want to disappoint Appa too. Something in me rejects it, would rather embrace the sand in my mind than choose to see disappointment on his face. So I let it go and drop my backpack on the floor, grab a box of Rice Krispies from the pantry and shake it into my bowl, motions jerky, kernels falling over the edge. My anger fizzles, or at least gets pressed deep down, muffled and quiet.
“Everything will be okay,” Appa says.
After that, we fall back into silence, punctuated only by the snap, crackle, pop of my breakfast cereal.
I was born with Sensory Time Warp Syndrome. Sounds like some kind of sci-fi experiment gone wrong, but in reality, it’s a rare condition that makes you physically travel back in time to certain memories when exposed to trigger senses linked with that memory. At least, that’s what the pamphlet that I received when I was nine told me. That was the first and last time I ever went to go see a doctor about it. “The root cause is unknown,” he said at the time. “But many people grow out of it. There’s a good chance you will too.”
For me, my trigger sense is always smell. That means that when I smell something related to a memory, I go right back in time to that moment. Not every time, mind you. It’s unpredictable when exactly it’ll happen. One second I’m in the present, and the next, I disappear mid-sentence, mid–sandwich bite, mid–whatever the hell I was in the middle of doing, and I’m in the past. Once the memory is over, I get snapped right back to the present.
Sometimes, like yesterday, I’m gone for two minutes. The longest I’ve ever been gone was ten minutes.
Appa clung on to the doctor’s words like a life raft. He’s been calling it a phase ever since, reminding me that it’s only a matter of time until I grow out of it. For a long time, I believed him. The disappearances were infrequent enough that it was easy to chalk them up as little inconveniences. But these days, with me disappearing more often, I’ve started wondering. What happens if I don’t grow out of it? What happens if this is a forever thing?
It’s drizzling when I jog out of the apartment. I pull up the hood of my rain jacket, shielding my camera with one hand as I scan the street for Nikita. A second later I see her turning the corner in her red Mini Cooper, honking the horn with a grin.
This car is her pride and joy. Her parents gave it to her when she passed her novice driver’s test earlier this year, and she affectionately named it Twizzlers. I don’t know when I’ll get a driver’s license of my own. The thought of vanishing in the middle of driving and causing some kind of terrible accident has stopped me from even taking the written learner’s test. Not to mention, people with STWS need an official doctor’s note with a stamp of approval in order to drive, and I can’t think of any doctor who would give me a thumbs up to get behind the wheel with all my recent disappearances. But generous soul that Nikita is, she picks me up on her way to school every morning. I climb into the passenger seat, grateful to be inside. The rain’s coming down harder now. Typical Vancouver, kicking off March with one downpour after another.
“Good morning,” Nikita says. She’s wearing an orange sundress with wedge sandals because weather be damned, Nikita Lai-Sanders will always dress like it’s the middle of summer. “How’d the talk with your dad go?”
“Good morning. And fine.” I snap my seat belt on, maybe a little too aggressive.
She raises an eyebrow. “Fine as in fine or fine as in FINE?”
Fine is fine. FINE, in all caps, is our acronym for Falling Into Never-ending Emptiness. A bit dramatic maybe, but we were twelve when we thought of it and considered ourselves geniuses.
“All caps,” I sigh.
“Ah.” Nikita shoots me a quick sympathetic look as she drives. “He didn’t listen? Even after you told him what happened yesterday?”
“I could barely tell him anything, to be honest.”
She shakes her head, in sync with the windshield wipers. “I don’t get it. If I was traveling back in time, my parents would want to know everything. What was the memory? Were they in it? How did they look? Et cetera et cetera.”
“Well, you know my dad,” I say.
She pauses. “I don’t, actually. All I know about him is that I should call him Mr. Roh and that he’s way younger than my dad. He’s like forty or something, right?”
“Thirty-six this year, I think.”
“My parents both just turned fifty-seven and they’re always like, ‘Wow, Aimee’s dad, so young.’ But honestly, other than that, your dad’s kind of a mystery.”
I don’t know what to say to that. Nikita’s looking at me like she’s waiting for me to offer more details. Instead, I turn on the radio.
“Well, your dad might not be curious about where you go back to, but if you ever want to talk about it . . .” Nikita throws me a smile. “I’m here for you.”
“Thanks.” I smile back. It’s not that I don’t trust Nikita. If there was anyone in the world I would talk to about the memories I visit, it would be her. I’ve already told her about a few of them—like Disappearance Number Four, the time I revisited the moment we first became friends, in grade six when we were partnered together for a papier-mâché art project on whales (scent: Elmer’s glue and newspaper); or Disappearance Number Three, the summer vacation I spent in Korea when I was seven, eating hoddeok with the first boy I ever had a crush on, a family friend’s son who liked to draw pretend tattoos on himself (scent: cinnamon and honey). I let him draw a pear on my wrist and I wouldn’t erase it for weeks. Nikita still likes to tease me about that one to this day.
The thing is, it’s easier to talk about some memories than others. I haven’t really figured out how to talk about all of them yet. Especially the one I went back to yesterday.
Nikita clears her throat. “Also, just a reminder that if you ever go back to our first year of high school, please, please stop me from dating David. He’s texting me again. Dude can’t take a hint.”
“It’s not like that. You know I can’t change anything.” I can’t even interact with anyone in my memories. I just appear like a ghost, invisible to everyone, stuck watching the scene play out like a movie until it’s time to go back. It definitely takes the potential fun out of time traveling when you can’t engage with anything. All those time travel movies make it look way cooler than it actually is.
“Just keep it in mind. For if the rules ever change,” she says.
“Block David at all costs. Got it.” I nod. “So why’s he been texting you anyway?”
“Ugh, don’t get me started,” Nikita says before launching into it.
I lean back in my seat, only half listening. My mind is wandering now, thinking over my conversation with Appa from this morning and what Nikita just said. For if the rules ever change.
Honestly? I’m not even sure what the rules are. I smell certain things, I disappear, I come back. Time moves on while I’m gone, so whatever I miss in the present, I can never get back.
Everything I know about Sensory Time Warp Syndrome, I learned from the pamphlet, the internet, and a small online forum I discovered a few years back with other people diagnosed with STWS. There was also that one Vancouver meetup I went to last year, though that wasn’t as helpful as I thought it would be. But other than that, the resources I’ve had have always felt like enough. But now . . . I lean my head against my palm, feeling restless, thinking back to that first doctor’s appointment when I was nine. I had blood tests, X-rays, full-body examinations. “Totally healthy, no abnormalities,” the doctor said. “And yet.”
“I’ve never met anyone with this condition myself,” the doctor said. His gaze flickered to Appa. “If we could speak privately about the possibility of Aimee coming in for some studies at the hospital . . .”
“No,” Appa said flatly. “No one is doing tests on my daughter.”
“Oh no, Mr. Roh, it’s not what you’re thinking. It would be studies to help us understand the nature of the condition better than we currently do. Nothing invasive. And any studies we conduct would be with your consent, of course.”
But Appa wouldn’t hear of it. He stood up, taking my hand. “You said there’s a good chance children grow out of it?”
“Well, yes. In the cases I’ve read about—”
“That’s all we need to know. We can handle this on our own, thank you.”
And that was that.
I wonder if things might have been different if I had gone in for those studies. At that point, I had only vanished once. Could I have stopped the eight other times if I had done more work then? Not that I would have been able to without Appa’s permission. Or my mom’s, if she’d still been around then.
“—so you’ll be there, right? The grad auction?” Nikita’s urgent voice brings me back to the moment. I sit up straighter, trying to piece together what I missed. “I need backup. David’s definitely going to try to corner me there.”
Okay. I’m pretty sure she’s talking about the auction after school today. The grad committee is putting it on as a fundraiser. I nod. “Sure. I’ll be there. You know no one sets up chairs better than me.”
She grins. “Good. Make sure not to disappear on me, okay?”
She says it like a joke, so I laugh, even though in my head, all I’m thinking about is how FINE I feel.
I used to vanish once every year or two at most. But the fact that it’s already happened three times in this new year alone . . . I mean, maybe it means nothing. Maybe I’m just getting it out of my system all in one go and I won’t ever vanish again. But I can’t help but worry, like something’s not right.
Like my body’s trying to tell me something.
If Appa’s not going to take it seriously, I’m going to need to figure out a way to help myself.
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