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And I Almost Had You

Justin A. Reynolds writes through the heartbreak with his debut novel, Opposite of Always.

And I Almost Had You

BOOK REPORT for Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Cover Story: Super Cute
BFF Charm: Torn
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Somewhat Unsatisfying
Bonus Factors: Groundhog Day, Awesome Parents
Relationship Status: Party Friends

Cover Story: Super Cute

I love this. The stairs play a big role in Jack and Kate’s first conversation, and showing multiple iterations of them in different poses (I just noticed that Jack’s outfits are the only ones changing!) is cute. The illustration is so charming.

The Deal:

On a weekend trip to visit his future college, Jack meets Kate. She’s funny and outgoing, beautiful and mysterious. Over the next six months, Jack falls head over heels for her, but things come to a tragic end when Kate suddenly dies. Before Jack can get to her, he finds himself waking up back in that very same moment they first met. Maybe this is his chance to save her! But each time he goes back, something else changes, and soon it’s not just Kate’s life he’s messing with.

BFF Charm: Torn

For the most part, Jack is fine. He’s pretty average, as he points out quite often. He’s managed to hold on to some really great friends in Franny, his brother from another mother; and Franny’s girlfriend, Jillian, who Jack was secretly in love with until he meets Kate. Where I had trouble sympathizing with him is when he kept making boneheaded moves again and again, like forgetting to show up to things he said he would and being uber flaky (my BFF pet peeves). There will always be a component of lying in a time travel story (I mean, you can’t just walk around telling everyone that you’ve seen the future), but there were moments he could have chosen honesty and instead made everything so hard for himself. Maybe I could give that a pass once (he’s a teenager, after all, and only human), but, dude, you’re reliving the same things multiple times. Figure out what works already.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Jack’s always regretted that he never asked Jillian out first before Franny met her, and he’s even mooning over her when Kate first talks to him. One night with Kate, though, gives him a complete change of heart. A lot of attention is given to these first few conversations, which, in general, I like—show us why these two have a connection—but I had some problems with where their relationship ultimately went (see below).

Talky Talk: Somewhat Unsatisfying

For a premise like this to work, I really need to believe in the love story. Unfortunately I didn’t have much in the way of butterflies. Kate seems like a decent chick, but I never felt like I got to know her, and if I didn’t, then I don’t think Jack really knew her either (at least the first time around; after a while he’s spent months and months with her so I can see his feelings deepening at that point). Kate also kind of suffered from cancer-girl syndrome. To be clear, she doesn’t have cancer, but she does have a life-threatening illness. She hides said illness from Jack for a long time (he doesn’t even know what she dies from initially), which drove me nuts. She’s also very into the now, live life to its fullest, dancing on moonbeams amazing, and basically she reminded me of many other sick teen storylines. Jack supposedly feels this deep soul-connection to her, and I just never really felt that myself.

The fact that Jack has to relive six months at a time over and over seems excessive. I kept waiting for him to get frustrated or bored with living those same moments again, but the dude really had such a one-track mind. The ending also confused me. I’m really not sure if I’m supposed to think something actually happened or if it was more of an “if-only” wish fulfillment ending. There’s also a pretty big (in my opinion) piece of info that gets told about three pages before the end that sort of changes the way I view what happens. I feel like that should have been taken out or explored more.

Bonus Factor: Groundhog Day

Jack never figures out why he’s constantly reliving the same few months over and over, but it’s a sci-fi trope that I am always attracted to. I don’t know if this was my favorite iteration of it, but I do love me some time travel.

Bonus Factor: Kickass Parents

Jack’s parents are supportive and caring. They take his best friend, Franny, in like he’s their own son, and when Jack does something (spoilers) to make Franny mad, there’s a sweet moment where Jack’s mom laments about how she’ll have to adjust her grocery list because she always buys extra food knowing that Franny will be coming over. They’re also a rare breed of YA parent who are actually always around and notice the little things, like when Jack takes the family car and is gone for hours at a time. They’re a good contrast to Franny’s actual dad, who just got out of prison and is a pretty big screw-up.

Relationship Status: Party Friends

Sometimes when you’re at a party you make a connection to a random person and have a great conversation. Maybe you even stay up all night talking. But then they say something a little weird, and suddenly you’re completely fine with this being a one-and-done moment. Thanks for sharing a bottle of wine with me, Book, but I have to go back to my real life now.

Literary Matchmaking:

  

• Want more of the “boy loves a sick girl but there’s a twist” trope? Check out Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything

• Emily Henry’s The Love that Split the World also mixes time travel and romance in an unusual way. 

• For a great contemporary that focuses on love and death, but with characters I would fight you for, read Flight Season by Marie Marquardt. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Katherine Tegen Books. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Opposite of Always is available now.

Stephanie Johnston's photo About the Author: Stephanie is an avid reader who moonlights as a college Educational Advisor. Though she now calls Orlando home, she grew up all over the U.S. Aside from her obsession with YA books and book-related activities, Stephanie loves watching way too much television, reading organizational/DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.