Author:Justin A. Reynolds
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Warnings: Themes of chronic illness, family struggles, death.
I’ve had some ups and downs with books in my Scribbler boxes. A few piqued my interest, but I’ve had some trouble getting into them. So I didn’t have much hope for Opposite of Always except that it happened to come along at a time where, thanks to a beta reader’s novel I’d just finished, I was fully in the mood for a contemporary fantasy – a book firmly set in our world with some kind of supernatural element.
In the case of Opposite of Always, that theme was time travel.
I can now say this was my favorite book from a Scribbler box and one of my favorite ConFan books of all time.
Opposite of Always follows the king of Almost – Jack Ellison King, to be exact. Jack is firmly stuck in the middle of everything – never a failure and never quite a success. He doesn’t get the girl, but he’s her best friend. He’s not a stellar musician, he’s just all right. He’s not a genius, but he’s not a dunce, either.
Everything is Almost for Jack – until he meets Kate at a college party.
Cue a night of deep conversation and a morning of cereal that sets off a change in Jack’s entire life. When a few whirlwind months of falling in love ends abruptly – with time travel in the mix, no less – Jack gets the chance to relive his best moments with Kate again. To make new ones. And perhaps to save her from a grim fate.
It’s very rare to find a male-lead, first-person YA book that feels genuine to me. For some reason boys’ voices always feel a little more shoehorned to me, a little less believable – maybe because I grew up with more guy than girl friends and I’m very attuned to how they talk. Regardless, I went into this book with some fear that Jack’s narrative voice would draw me out of the story.
Pleasantly surprised, this was not the case AT ALL! Jack is likeable in his dialogue and narrative. He’s a sweet, nerdy, loveable marshmallow. His relationship with his parents is delightful – the perfect mixture of warm and awkward, as teenagers do – and his friendships with Kate, Franny, and Jillian were all extremely realistic and easy to root for.
While I absolutely loved Kate as well, at times she was a little too “manic pixie girl” for me. I love this kind of character – the no-care, no-nonsense, often-esoteric female lead – but I’ve seen her in a lot of YA Contemporary lately and I think I would’ve loved Kate more had I not read the likes of The Fault in Our Stars or A Thousand Perfect Notes first. That being said, my favorite moments with Kate were when she was being sassy and warm with Jack – and thankfully those moments far outweighed the ones that made suspended my disbelief with her dialogue.
Franny and Jillian are also delightful characters – well-rounded people in their own rights, not there to simply serve the role of “best friends to the MC”. They never once suffer from “Secondary Character Syndrome” where they become plot devices and nothing more. Each have their own personalities, their own lives, their own struggles, none of which seem dependent on Jack’s tale but still weave beautifully into it.
Thankfully, Jack’s family also provides a refreshing break (for this reader, at least!) from the broken, often parentless homes of YA. While Franny and Jillian struggle with parental issues that are integral to the plot (and handled with the same care and concern as the rest of the issues addressed in OOA) Jack’s parents are strong, supportive, present figures whose bond with their son is very realistic. I super appreciated seeing that represented on the page, especially because in some ways I feel the YA industry – and perhaps storytelling in general – still has a ways to go toward giving a good amount of spotlight to healthy, strong-foundationed families of color.
All in all, it could be argued that characters are the absolute strongest part of OOA. The time travel aspect is gripping, the themes and plot delightful, but it’s Jack and those around him who carry those points out to completion in a way that makes you root for them from page one.
I find there’s less to say about worldbuilding when I review contemporary, because to me it often becomes less about building the world, our world, and more about fleshing out imagined corners of it to make them come alive as if you’ve lived there.
In that regard, once again, OOA triumphs. I felt myself sitting on the stairs in the party house with Jack and Kate I was at the gorge, watching the sunset. I was at Jack’s house, in the hospital room, in the cereal aisle. I felt like I was truly in these scenes, living them out alongside the characters. Yet another beautiful execution by Mr. Reynolds!
I’ll admit, at first I was skeptical of the plot of OOA. I read the first two chapters and then took a step back because I just wasn’t sure how I felt about the time-travel aspect. While the first chapter did leave me a bit confused, it made much more sense as the story went on.
In short, this book’s plot is a perfect contemporary fantasy setup: it knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be and executes that with class and finesse. I can’t stay too much for fear of giving things away, but suffice to say the book takes its time building up to the fantasy angle, executes it deftly, handles that and the heavier aspects with a delicate balance, and kept me hooked the whole time.
The prose in OOA mostly, MOSTLY works for a contemporary fantasy. As is the case, IMO, with almost any contemporary YA novel – and especially in the first-person perspective – there are times the prose gets a little too purple for the rest of the narrative voice. There were a few times when the way Jack thought and talked or the way Kate talked really jerked me out of the story and I had to skim ahead to where things felt a little more natural.
But honestly, those moments were few and far between for what the rest of the book had to offer. It never become enough of a pattern to make me put down the book, and overall the prose style suited the genre and voice flawlessly.
One of the parts I loved a lot was the break in the standard formatting by having emails, text messages, and phone calls. This was just a nice addition that kept it a light, straightforward read especially when tackling heavier subjects.
Opposite Of Always was the perfect summer read for me: sweet, funny, sassy, well-written and plotted. It had characters I rooted for from the beginning, solid relationships all around, and it tackled issues that were both near to my heart, and broad enough to leave me deep in thought. I cannot recommend this book enough and sincerely hope it gets a (good, honest, respectful!!!) movie deal someday so it can reach an even broader audience!