Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Book Review: "The Opposite of Always" by Justin A. Reynolds

Do you believe that there is one person out there for each of us? If so, should we do everything we can to find that person, and once we do, never let them go, no matter what it takes?

Jack King has spent most of his life pining for his best friend, Jillian. (Come on, their names are Jack and Jill. How could that not work?) She's everything he's ever wanted. But she's in love with Jack's other best friend, Franny (short for Francisco), and he can see how happy they make each other. So instead of finally working up the nerve to tell Jillian how he feels, he figures he'll live a lonely life, forever a third wheel instead.

One night at a party at the college he and Jillian will be attending in the fall, he meets Kate. She is beautiful, quirky, hysterically funny, and claims to be as awkward as he is. And suddenly, it's like, Jillian who? He falls quickly and totally for Kate, and even though she tries to resist him a little bit, he can tell she feels the same way.

"You're moving along life, doing your thing, managing your priorities and commitments—And then suddenly you meet THE ONE. And you fall completely out of the orbit you've been spinning in. And now you're doing laps around this new world. And you're hoping gravity can sustain you. But there's no way of knowing if it can until you realize it can't. Guess it's all an orbit of faith."

As the last few months of his high school days fly by, Jack's relationship with Kate grows more intense. And then one night, everything changes when she doesn't show up for an important occasion. He finds out that she's in the hospital, suffering from a genetic disease. She tries to push him away, saying she doesn't want his pity, but he wins her over. Victory, however, is short-lived, because she dies not long after, and his true love is gone.

But somehow Jack finds himself back at the moment he and Kate met. He can't explain it but he doesn't care if it doesn't make sense. All he knows is he wants to spend as much time as possible with Kate, which is, of course, hard to explain to someone he's just met. Armed with the knowledge that Kate's life may be short, Jack is determined to save her. But he quickly learns that altering the way life is supposed to flow has consequences, not just for Kate, but for his relationships with Jillian, Franny, and his parents.

Yet no matter how hard Jack tries, he keeps failing and Kate keeps dying. But even worse, he can't figure out what he's supposed to learn by having to live the same few months over and over again. And when he tries to make even more drastic changes, he winds up causing more hurt and anger in others' lives, and even putting those he loves at risk.

The Opposite of Always is a fascinating, thought-provoking, poignant book, one I enjoyed tremendously. Justin A. Reynolds has created a group of memorable characters and dropped them into the middle of an inexplicable situation, and then each time, it's like he shakes the dice a bit and a whole new scenario reveals itself, giving his characters even more to deal with. Jack and Kate are adorable, even if they're not always completely sympathetic characters.

I love YA rom-coms, and throwing a little time travel into the mix certainly took this book to a different dimension. As if the teenage years aren't confusing enough without time travel! Obviously this book requires a healthy dose of suspending your disbelief, but if you're a sucker for love stories, even tragic ones, and you like time travel, The Opposite of Always is one for you. It's a powerful reminder that sometimes the person most in need of saving is ourselves.

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