I read Opposite of Always (2019) by Justin A. Reynolds a while ago now. I can’t even remember how I first heard about it, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a very original, young-adult romance novel. Still somewhat unusual in the teen romance world, it’s written by a black man, and the main roles are people of color.
Jack is our protagonist. He’s had a deep crush on Jill (yes, Jack and Jill) since he ran into her on their first day of high school. Unfortunately for him, his best friend Franny hooked up with her first, and Franny and Jill make a great pair. The three of them are incredibly close and great friends.
Jack and Jill spend a weekend at the nearby college for an orientation weekend. At a house party on campus, Jack meets Kate on the stairs. Kate already goes to school there. The two immediately hit it off and Jack is enamored. He suddenly feels more for someone than he’s felt for Jill all these years. The two share some sweet dialogue and spend the entire night talking. Jack is able to give her his number before he leaves the next morning, and their relationship slowly grows.
But Kate has a medical condition that she doesn’t share with Jack, and she dies unexpectedly. Instead of this marking the end of the story, Jack is unexpectedly returned to the point at the house party where he meets Kate. This time he knows what to expect and spends all of his energy trying to save Kate. But it doesn’t work, and he ends up back at the house party again. In time loops that are reminiscent of Groundhog Day, Jack tries a number of different strategies to deal with what’s going on. First Jack tries various methods to save Kate. When the heartache becomes too much, he tries to avoid meeting Kate at all and finally start something with Jill instead. Another time he ignores his friends and family to focus on Kate.
Like I said above, I really enjoyed this book. The characters were fun and interesting and I cared about them. The plot felt original, and it was fascinating to see how Jack’s different decisions dramatically changed his relationships with his friends and family. My only complaint was that there were sometimes details that didn’t quite work. These were small but could be distracting. For example, I couldn’t understand how Jack found Kate’s dorm room when she lived in a huge building that Jack had never been in before. Despite these nitpicks, I would recommend this one.
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