Book Review: Opposite of Always

Sometimes you meet somebody and you know, within moments, that this person is meant to be in your life. The connection is just instant, and perfect, and in next to no time you can’t imagine your life without them. That’s how Jack King feels when he meets Kate, and what follows is a whirlwind romance that seems to be going from strength to strength. Jack isn’t used to so much good luck, and the whole thing feels too good to be true.

And then Kate dies.

 Which, in most cases, would be the end of the story. However, in Justin A. Reynolds’ debut novel, Opposite of Always, death turns out not to be quite the end, as Jack finds himself flung back in time to the moment where he and Kate met for the first time. What follows is a witty, achingly sweet exploration of second chances (and third, and fourth…) and the things we’re prepared to do for the people we love.

Jack is a very endearing character; funny and self-effacing, and even when he makes mistakes he’s so obviously got good intentions that you can’t help but want the best for him. There are lots of very likeable characters in this story, Jack’s parents and friends are all intelligent, kind and fun. That Reynolds manages to create significant interpersonal conflict throughout the story, with a collection of such thoughtful and understanding characters, without any of them coming out looking like the bad guy is a significant achievement. Of course, it helps that the person behaving worst is usually Jack himself and, since the story is written from his point of view, we deeply understand his reasons.

Speaking of Jack behaving badly, I think the author did a fantastic job of showing the way the decisions Jack made in each new ‘replay’ spiralled out to affect the rest of his life. Not all of those decisions were great ones and they had correspondingly not-great impacts on Jack’s relationships with his parents and two best friends as the story progressed. It was hard to read at times, knowing the damage he was doing but also deeply understanding why he felt the need to do it, but I appreciated that Reynolds didn’t pull any punches and that Jack was forced to deal with the fallout of his actions.

The central time-repeating mechanic makes it difficult not to at least make reference to Groundhog Day, but whereas in that story the main character is repeating the same day over and over, Jack has a period of several months between meeting Kate and her untimely death. This is good, because it means Jack and Kate actually have time to get to know each other (or, rather, Kate has time to get to know Jack) and actually fall in love each time, making the emotional stakes feel more reasonable. In a similarity with Groundhog Day, there’s no reason given for the time loop Jack finds himself in, so that’s worth bearing in mind if you’re curious about that going in. I don’t think it detracted from the story, personally, but I did notice the absence.

A sandtimer filled with green sand against a dark background.
What would you do if you had a second chance with the person you loved?
Image by moritz320 from Pixabay

Although a light-hearted book in the tone of its writing, Opposite of Always deals with some dark and difficult subject matter. Jack’s closest friends have complicated family lives, and we see the way this impacts them at different points throughout the book. More centrally to the story, the reason for Kate’s death is that she has sickle cell disease, an illness which can be incredibly painful and life-limiting depending on its severity. Of course, in Kate’s case it proves to be fatal. I knew a little about the disease before reading this book, but Reynolds does a thorough and thoughtful job of educating people through Jack’s desire to understand more about what keeps killing the love of his life and I definitely came out of the story knowing more than I did when I went in.

Opposite of Always is a beautiful story with a diverse cast of characters and a lot of heart. Fans of John Green and Angie Thomas should definitely give this book a go, although I think it would be hard not to fall in love with it regardless of your usual reading habits. You can find it on Amazon.

This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info

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