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The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman
Historical fantasy

The Invisible Hour

by Alice Hoffman

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Quick take

A paean to the power of books and trusting your own truth, Alice Hoffman transports us to a world where dreams rule.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_BasedOnAClassic

    Based on a classic

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_BookAboutBooks

    Book about books

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MamaDrama

    Mama drama


One brilliant June day when Mia Jacob can no longer see a way to survive, the power of words saves her. The Scarlet Letter was written almost two hundred years earlier, but it seems to tell the story of Mia’s mother, Ivy, and their life inside the Community—an oppressive cult in western Massachusetts where contact with the outside world is forbidden, and books are considered evil. But how could this be? How could Nathaniel Hawthorne have so perfectly captured the pain and loss that Mia carries inside her?

Through a journey of heartbreak, love, and time, Mia must abandon the rules she was raised with at the Community. As she does, she realizes that reading can transport you to other worlds or bring them to you, and that readers and writers affect one another in mysterious ways. She learns that time is more fluid than she can imagine, and that love is stronger than any chains that bind you.

As a girl Mia fell in love with a book. Now as a young woman she falls in love with a brilliant writer as she makes her way back in time. But what if Nathaniel Hawthorne never wrote The Scarlet Letter? And what if Mia Jacob never found it on the day she planned to die?

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Invisible Hour.
The Invisible Hour

I began my life for the second time on a June night in the year I turned fifteen. My name was still Mia Jacob, and I was still made of blood and bones, but when I stepped into the road on that night I walked into a different future. I left the way my mother had arrived, alone and in the dark.

The moon was yellow and the woods were pitch black. If you didn’t know there were mountains and fields and that this was Western Massachusetts, you would think you had come to the end of the earth. In some ways that was true, at least for me. I could feel every breath that I took rattle inside my chest. Every heartbeat echoed. Freedom is not what you think it is. It’s cold and hard and bright. That was what it felt like to change everything. To pick up the ashes and let them blow in the wind.

In the morning I was to be punished out in the cow field, in front of everyone, a cautionary tale so that one and all could see what happened to anyone who disobeyed. I was meant to beg and plead. I had asked to be forgiven in the past, but I was someone else now. I was the girl who knew how to escape, the one who could become invisible, who believed that a single dream was more powerful than a thousand realities.

They thought I only had a life that I lived here, but I had found other possibilities every time I read a book.

They locked me in the barn with the sheep. They told me I should think about what tomorrow would bring. But I had stolen a hammer from the men rebuilding a shed in the farthest field, and I’d left it underneath the hay in the barn. I’d always thought I might need to escape.

I worked on the lock for an hour or more, until my hands were blistering and bleeding. Nothing, and then, all at once, the lock came apart in my hands.

I was wearing gray overalls and my mother’s red boots. I looked like a prisoner, and that was what I’d always believed I was, but not anymore. My long red hair had been cut as a punishment in the spring, when I would not leave my mother’s grave site and had to be torn away, the ferns I’d held on to still in my hands. My hair was too beautiful anyway, that’s what they said, nothing more than a vanity, the sort of attribute that would make me look in a mirror and think I was better than everyone else.

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Why I love it

Books can save lives—they have saved mine many times. That is why I adore this spellbinding story of a teenager imperiled by her intelligence, fierce will, and yes, love of books!

When high school senior Ivy Jacob discovers she is pregnant, the father of her child refuses to help, and her parents prepare to give away her baby. But Ivy wants her daughter more than she wants anything, and so she escapes to a modern utopian community in Massachusetts, where her beauty and pluck lead her into a quick marriage.

Flash forward: Mia Jacob, Ivy’s daughter, has long red hair, bright red boots, and one treasured classic novel—The Scarlet Letter—stolen from the library. She believes in magic, or at least she hopes it is real. She is in love with Nathaniel Hawthorne, even though he has been dead for almost two hundred years.

Also, she may be a witch. And she knows that not all is well in the paradise her mother hoped would save them.

In this remarkable, lyrical tale from master storyteller Alice Hoffman, The Scarlet Letter is an inspiration, a salvation, and the link through time that saves a woman and sets young Nathaniel Hawthorne’s imagination free. If you believe in the transportive power of books and stories, then this time-travel tale will mesmerize you with its breathtaking and magical journey into the past.

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Member ratings (3,181)

  • Anna S.

    Bellevue, WA

    I enjoyed this! Full of mysticism, love, feminism, & a beautiful story that gives a spin to A Scarlett Letter. The traveling between times fell a little short for me but loved it nonetheless. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Marisa F.

    New York, NY

    Almost “liked” because I was + still am confused how Mia time traveled. I don’t even care because the relationship between her and Nathaniel, I couldn’t get enough of it. AH is one of my fave authors.

  • Silvia M.

    Atwater, CA

    100% This book spoke to my very heart and soul. We follow Mia as she grows up in a restrictive community and finds courage and freedom in books. What a beautiful book and the writing is perfect! 🫶🏻

  • Jessy C.

    Washington, DC

    Alice Hoffman delivered, once again! Poetic writing and such a beautiful story about the love of a mother, the harm of judgement, the power of books, and so much more! Loved the sprinkle of magic ❤️

  • Alexis P.

    Calhoun, GA

    This is a love letter to people who love books, the scarlet letter and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I absolutely loved it and I loved Hoffmann’s prose and take on women’s rights. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

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