Never Say Never
For a concept as out-there as the one presented in Never Say Never, the story’s delivery and execution are distressingly ordinary. It’s 2021 – we’re a bit beyond “I’m not like other girls, love is gross and I wear a leather jacket” heroines.
Brynn Stark wants nothing to do with love. At all. Ever. It doesn’t help that her parents are in the middle of a divorce, that Brynn will be forced soon to choose where she wants to live, and she has just walked in on her mother bumping uglies with another man. When her father suggests she stay with her mother – a pink-loving fru-fru type who has never been able to relate to her leather-loving daughter – Brynn goes into rebellion mode, believing her mother prefers Brynn’s older sister to her.
Brynn has a small circle of close friends, and Val, gushing. blonde and determined to match-make for everyone she meets, is Brynn’s staunch opposite. She eventually learns that there’s a reason for this – Val is Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Matchmaking is, therefore, kind of her thing, and she is determined to make sure that Brynn doesn’t give up on love. Not even with their mutual friend, Nina, going through a hard break-up of her own.
Only one person in this friendship group is as cynical about love as Brynn is – Adam. Who is Val’s boyfriend. Which means that to avoid even thinking about him as a romantic partner, Brynn becomes suddenly super interested in Val’s set-up attempts. Will her attraction to Adam win out in the end? And what will the cost be?
Never Say Never will probably work better for younger teens than older ones. Many of its problems spring from its simplicity, and only at the very end of the book does the author really address what it’s like to live among Greek gods; the rest of it leaves us with a very pat message and a very uninspiring heroine.
And it’s a shame I have to say this. It’s not that Brynn is a bad person, but I’ve read about her over and over again, from her faux-rebellious toughness to her girly best friend to the fact that she is not on the aromantic spectrum, she is just someone who needs to Find the Right Person. In a field as crowded with impressive books as the 2021 YA slate is, you have to do considerably more than this to catch a reviewer’s eye and engage them.
I had some issues with the way the book portray Brynn’s relationship with her mother, too. Remember: she witnesses her mother having sex with her boyfriend, and this is very early in the divorce cycle between her parents. The book’s message is that Brynn should accept that her mother loves this man, despite the speed at which his relationship with her mom has developed. The novel is horrible at validating Brynn’s feelings about herself and her identity in general she says directly that she feels like her mother loves a fantasy version of her that doesn’t exist, and it seems as though her mother only changes how she feels about Brynn when Brynn starts exhibiting an interest in Adam.
Worse, Val and Adam are equally lacking in depth, with Val devoid of any caution or thought beyond ‘must make others fall in love!’ It’s understandable (she’s the goddess of love after all!), but we have to spend a whole book with her, and it would have been nice if she had been more well-developed. Her whole deal is basically to force Brynn to fall in love, even though she’s only sixteen at max and has years to come to her own conclusions. And Adam just comes off as a bland consort, not interesting enough to make a successful match for either of them.
In the end, younger teens might find Never Say Never charming – if they haven’t read a story like this one before. But anyone over the age of fifteen might feel like they’ve already read it a million times.