In the beginning of Opposite of Always, Jack King, the novel’s protagonist, mentions, “but there aren’t a lot of books about kids like me. And I just think every kid deserves a book that looks like them,” Author Justin A. Reynolds does just that by writing a fun story with an intricate plot centered on an African-American boy desperately trying to save the life of a girl he “almost-loves.” Jack is the king of “almost” as he was almost valedictorian, an athlete, and even his best friend’s boyfriend. That is, until he meets Kate, a student at Whittier, the university he hopes to attend after he graduates. They bond at a party over their mutual love of cereal, leaving Jack immediately entranced. She is quirky, honest, and intriguing, everything about her makes Jack fall quickly and deeply. His world is turned around completely, however, when he figures out that Kate is an “almost” as well. Not because she doesn’t reciprocate, but because she dies. And it feels as though that is the end of Jack and Kate’s story. But it isn’t. Jack is taken back in time to the beginning, to that same party where it all started so that he may relive those four months they had together. Only, he doesn’t know what the purpose of it all is. Is he meant to save her? Save his friendships? He has a multitude of chances to figure it out because it doesn’t happen once- it happens more than three dozen times.
As a protagonist and hero, Jack King is perfectly imperfect. Often, he is frustrating as he consistently makes the worst decisions and takes the riskiest leaps of faith. These decisions are what generally led Jack down a tumultuous path every time he attempts to save Kate from the infamous day of her death. Every time there is something that goes completely wrong which makes it almost seem impossible for Jack to save Kate’s life. At times, the constant resetting of those four months is slightly discouraging, almost frustrating. After the first few chances he is given, it starts to feel as though Jack never actually stood a chance, thus making it feel like a drag having to read it repeatedly.
Most of this story is composed of five of the chances that Jack is granted. Throughout the book the reader is led to believe that these are the only ones he is even given. The structure of the plot made it difficult for me to be fully immersed in the story; even moments that were meant to evoke strong emotions and thrills often felt a bit bland. This may be due to a lack of connection with the characters. Though we spend a lot of time with characters like Jack and Kate, his best friends, and his parents, we do not really get to know them beyond their surface and their back stories. In fact, characters like Jillian, Jack’s best friend and former crush, are impacted by major plot holes, which interferes with their character’s development. These plots holes mostly exist because time is constantly resetting. The time resets tend to be quite repetitive regardless of them being unique each time; even though the resets are shorter each time, each new one manages to slow down the pacing of the story more than the last.
Although the writing style, characters, or even the dialogue are not particularly unique to me, it is exciting to see that there is a romantic contemporary story focused on characters who are people of color (POC). The fact that the story is slightly cliché in its instant love and quirky characters is even more impactful because it is refreshing to read a story about POC characters without it being focused around tragedy and solely on the fact that they are POC. The novel covers the struggles that we may see in our own lives and it is portrayed naturally; talks about adversity as minorities is brought up casually yet impactfully. That is the beauty of Justin A. Reynolds’ story, how the reader can make connections to the issues that Jack and his friends face. Although I am sure no one has had to save their love a multitude of times, we can all relate to the connection Jack feels to Kate, his desperation to bring her back, and his feeling that they finally had not failed at something. Readers can connect to all of this and more, hopefully being able to find themselves within these characters.
Justin A. Reynolds crafts a wholesome story for young adults hoping for a romantic comedy, a fine example of contemporary young adult novel. Essentially, Opposite of Always is a story full of potential that I am glad to have read. Though it may have an issue with pacing and delving deeper than its surface, it is clear how much Reynolds can grow as a YA writer by providing unique plots and relatable characters. That growth is something I am very excited to read.