Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy
Maturity Level: 4
(Content Warnings: Chronic Illness, Sycle Cell Anemia)
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When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.
But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.
Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.
Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.
I added this book to my tbr like, two and a half years ago, but quickly forgot EVERYTHING about it except that I was really excited for it. And then I … never read it, because book blogger life, right? So I had no idea what it was about and was really stoked to read the word “time travel” on the first page. Then disappointed to discover it wasn’t really about time travel, but more of a Groundhog Day thing. Which, you know, is awesome, I love Groundhog Day. Except I just watched Palm Springs like, two weeks ago, so the time loop was a lot less exciting than it should have been. All that to say, I would probably have loved this book WAY more if I’d read it when it was first published. Oops.
GOD KATIE, WHY CAN’T YOU JUST READ NEW RELEASES AND ARCs LIKE EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD, HUH? WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM? *cries*
THIS BOOK IS SO SWEET! I love Reynold’s writing style. His characters come across as genuinely nerdy in that awkward high school way where they think they have the best banter and comebacks but really they just sound like idiots. At least, that was MY high school experience. I also loved that Jack and his friends are serious band nerds (and Reynolds even name drops the Caveliers in his author bio, lol) and have actual extra-curricular activities. They read like real kids, especially because they think they’re so grown up but are ACTUALLY so not.
The romance in this book was so nice too. It wasn’t a swoony romance for me, but it was cute and convincing. I don’t know that I believe, as Jack does, that there are two people who are destined for each other, but it was heartwarming to see how the couples were so committed to one another. I’m not sure how super realistic that is for high school, but whatever, this is YA romance, we’re here for the awwww not the real life.
It was great to read a book where the friendships matter as much as (sometimes more than) the romance. I loved Jack’s friend group. They were always there for each other, but they screwed up sometimes. But then they always forgave each other. That was nice to see. They were definitely friendship goals. 🙂
I liked the time loop a lot. Reynold’s version is more intense than we usually see; Jack’s time loop is several MONTHS long instead of just a day. That means it’s a lot more tedious to get through one “round” (both for us, the readers, and for Jack), and it also means he has to opportunity to COMPLETELY ruin his life. It also makes it so much more disappointing when he re-sets, because we’ve invested a hundred pages in this try. But it’s different from the other time loop stories out there, which was super refreshing.
My biggest critique is that the conclusion kind of blows by, so I didn’t feel that HUGE sense of relief I expected to feel. I would have preferred to get the montage in the middle, rather than the end. I see why Reynolds made that choice, and it worked, but it lacked some emotional impact for me.
I also felt like this book glorified teenage drinking a little. I know we can’t live in a bubble and ignore that kids drink, but I also don’t think that the adults in their lives should be encouraging them to get drunk either. But my opinions on alcohol are super counter-cultural, so feel free to ignore that critique.
This book, Jack’s time loop, revolves in part around sickle cell anemia. While I obviously am not an expert on this or any chronic illness, I thought it was presented with love. There was a healthy mix between learning stuff and feeling stuff. Reynold’s takes the time to explain what the disease is, how it works, how it makes the patients feel. But he also spends some time delving in to how it changes the way patients and their loved ones experience their life. There’s grief, but hope. There’s wanting to live life to the fullest, but also not push too hard and trigger an episode. It sounds like he wrote based on personal experience, based on loss, and it’s heartbreaking to think how many kids there are like Jack who don’t get to do it over until they can save the person they love.
Overall, a heartwarming book with just enough humor and sci-fi/fantasy/whatever. I thought Reynolds found the perfect mix to keep this book light but still meaningful. I really enjoyed it, and more importantly, I think teens will too. Definitely recommend.
Sorry for the rantiest most random review ever!