Author: Justin A. Reynolds
Pages: 464 pages
Read: 6th – 9th March 2019
Rating: 4 stars
CWs: Death, chronic illness, racism, racial profiling, shootings
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. Jack’s curse of almost is finally over.
But this love story is . . . complicated. It is an almost happily ever after. Because 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. Beautiful, radiant Kate. 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—and let go—to save the people he loves.
Jack King is your average YA high-schooler and this is your average YA contemporary. Until suddenly it’s not.
While visiting a prospective university/college with his friend Jillian, he meets Kate at a party, and begins to fall for her. But Kate dies.
And suddenly Jack is back at the beginning, meeting her all over again, caught in a time loop while he tries to save her life.
Plot and pacing
For the first 25% of the story, the pacing was pretty slow. I’ll admit it, I wasn’t really into it. But I can pinpoint the exact moment that changed: when the time loop section kicked in.
I’ve always found the idea of parallel words interesting. So a story where one character gets to relive—and attempt to change—a section of time over and over again (in effect, creating parallel versions of events) was a definite yes for me.
Justin Reynolds uses the time loop concept as a catalyst for the plot, and it works well.
Each time Jack goes back, events change and more of the mystery surrounding Kate unravels, which keeps the plot engaging.
If you like squads like the gang in Simon Vs or the What If It’s Us squad, then you’ll like the characters in this novel.
Jack’s best friends Jillian and Franny are fun, supportive, and full of zest. They’re the kind of friends that will cheer you on when you’re doing well, but will also call you out for doing bad things or making poor choices.
And Jack is one of those YA characters, who makes a lot of poor choices. So many poor choices. Sometimes we question his choices and motives, and sometimes we root for him, making him likable and frustrating in equal measures.
His single-mindedness often hurts his good intentions, but he’s fiercely caring and, as he learns more about himself and what’s important in life, he learns how to channel that caring nature into helping others.
Franny, Jillian, and Kate, also get more development each time the loop resets, and Reynolds uses them to start conversations about issues such as racism, poverty, and health.
The author really brings Jack’s character to life with the first person narrative. We get a very clear sense of Jack’s voice and, through that, his personality. The dialogue suffers from being cliched at times, but for the most part it’s funny and gets the point across.
The narrative style didn’t really wow me, but there were humorous moments that injected energy into the story, and the quick pacing held everything together.
My main issue with this book is that we’re never given an explanation for how Jack ends up going back into the past.
Jack himself muses on why it might have happened (to save Kate or to help his friends), but we never find out what actually caused it.
There are also a few scenes that could have been explored further. In one scene, two characters end up together whose interest has been hinted at for a while, but their lingering feelings for each other are never addressed in any of the loops that follow.
The ending is also too abrupt for my liking, and we’re left unsure whether the cycle is actually broken or not. Jess over at ReadbyJess actually asked the author for clarification on the ending, because she wanted to know what happened.
Those issues aside, I enjoyed this more than I expected to. There were some really heart-warming scenes, and I liked the existential questions that were woven into the plot.
I was a little disappointed that there was no queer rep in this book, but most of the characters were POC and there were some really important discussions of racial profiling. The time loop made this a fun story, and one which makes us question what’s truly important in our lives.
5 thoughts on “Review: The Opposite of Always // A YA contemporary with a Groundhog Day twist”
I’m glad to hear that this is something that What If It’s Us reader will like, and you had me at groundhog day!
Haha yes, it definitely has Groundhog day vibes! If I’m being honest, I’d say I loved What If It’s Us more, but I do think some of the friendship vibes were similar in this book 😊
This sounds like a fun read! I love the idea of this being similar to Simon vs. in terms of characters! 🙂
Fab review Kate! I really enjoyed that the characters were allowed to be messy teens
Thanks Kirsty! Yeah, me too. I think when done well, teen characters that don’t have their lives sorted or planned out are more relatable and we can sympathise with them better.