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Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

‘When Jack and Kate meet at a party, he knows he’s falling – hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends 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 love stories about time travel (Window of Opportunity is my favourite Stargate episode) and Opposite of Always addressed most of the reasons why I’m so fond of stories that manipulate time. Watching Jack make different decisions as he goes through the various time loops that lead him to Kate, the reader gets to see him and other characters at their best and at their worst, depending on the choices that he makes and how they impact those in his life.

Even when he tries his hardest, Jack doesn’t always manage to make what some might consider to be the ‘right’ decisions, what he at first believes will be the best choice he could make for himself or for Kate often turning out to have consequences for others that he hasn’t quite thought through. During the loop in which he makes the most selfish decision, wearied by what is happening to him, he gets to witness what would happen if he weren’t the better man he tries to be, which is, I think, one of the most interesting elements about the novel. Jack may not like himself during that time, and the reader may not like him either, but there is undeniably something incredibly engaging about reading about someone doing as they want instead of as they believe they should – a situation with a decision to make that I’m sure we’ve all been in at some point in our lives. Stories of this nature – about repeating the past – are intriguing because what characters learn about themselves and their choices, and how the reader is made to think about their own decisions and reasons behind them.

I don’t read a huge amount of contemporary (which I believe is what the novel would be, save for the time travel), but I was drawn into Opposite of Always very quickly, primarily because of its opening sequence, which is structured much as a film or television show would be before the opening credits roll, supplying just enough information in those few pages to set out the premise without giving away anything clearly enough for the situation to be entirely understood. To my mind, it is actually one of – if not the – most effective openings of a novel that I’ve read in many years. The entire book is structured much like a film would be, with the loops making up its different acts and setting up conflict and its eventual resolution, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find it being picked up for cinema or television in the not too distant future. On the whole, its pacing is very effective, and though I do get through books quite quickly, I found I was getting through hundreds of pages in a very short space of time. There is only one timeline towards the end of the book that seems to drag a little, but this might be down to the fact that it could be one too many instances of revisiting the same (but different) events.

Jack is a character who is easy to root for and easy to sympathise with, especially as he spends most of the novel attempting to be as good a person as he can be and seems to truly regret what actions lead to him doing otherwise. Likewise, his friends and Kate are all well developed and have their own threads within the narrative that make them interesting and multi-dimensional. I loved Jack’s parents, particularly how they’ve brought Franny into their family. That the characters in Opposite of Always really do care about each other, even when they aren’t always the best they could be towards them, is one of the elements that makes it such a lovely read.

If I were to mention one slight negative, it’s the ambiguity in the novel’s conclusion. Perhaps it’s just me, but I re-read it several times to see if I had missed anything, and I’m still left with several possible conclusions that the reader is supposed to understand from it. This isn’t to say that the message isn’t clear or a good and valid one, but I think I would have liked something a little more solid. However, given the messages within the novel, it might be very appropriate that there is perhaps nothing final about its ending.

Opposite of Always is out on April 4th from Pan Macmillan. Thank you to Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy for review!