Desert Isle Keeper
Opposite of Always
Combining a touch of the movie About Time with a little bit of The Fault in Our Stars and a heaping helping of charm, Opposite of Always is a story about true love that examines all the things we discover on our way to happily ever after.
At the start of our story, Jack King tells us he is an expert on “just missing out”. He almost made class valedictorian, he would have been the school mascot if another boy hadn’t executed a far superior somersault, and his best friend Jill (Jillian) would be his girlfriend if his other best friend Franny (Francisco) hadn’t asked her out first.
Which is making Jack’s tour of Whittier College especially painful. He’d hoped that this weekend at the school both he and Jill plan to attend in the fall would give them a chance to have alone time together and have her see him as something other than just friend material. Instead, he is sitting on the steps feeling sorry for himself, watching Jill just a few feet away being the life of the party, when a girl named Kate tells him to stop blocking the stairs. This leads to a laughter-fueled, cliché-filled conversation which has them bonding over their mutual love of fruit loops and classic movies. They spend the entire night together, talking, giggling, flirting and everything is perfect. Even though he’s a senior in high school and she’s a freshman in college at a school ninety minutes away from his home, he knows this was meant to be.
And for a short time, their relationship is ideal. Jack introduces Kate to the people in his life and she fits in like she was the piece they never knew they were missing. He’s the happiest he’s ever been and is convinced his days of ‘almost’ are over – and then she stands him up for prom. And dies. And that should be the end of the story but it’s actually only the beginning. Jack begins to loop back in time, reliving their short relationship, trying to change the outcome and give his love story the happy ending it deserves.
The science fiction aspect of this story is the mechanism that drives the tale but it is never explained or explored and receives very little page space. That works for several reasons. One is that the narrative revolves around a specific and relatively short period of time. Jack has no control over it; he’s given the chance to do multiple revisits to his life during those months in which he met and fell in love with Kate and he can change his behavior within that brief context but he doesn’t have the option to visit any when else. The other reason it works is simply that the story isn’t about science fiction. Those who don’t like time travel novels don’t need to fear this book. The focus here is on our two charming leads, their relationship and how love and loss affect our lives.
Jack is a good kid from a great home who is coming to terms with who he is, who he wants to be and how that has consequences for more than just him. As he falls in love with Kate, he also sees how his choices of friends and lovers impacts his family and friends, and it’s wonderful to see him grapple with the idea of interconnectedness and what his decisions mean not just for him but for those who care about him. Most of us don’t gain that awareness till middle age or later but Jack picks up early on the reality that what matters most is who, and not what, you spend time with. I also loved how kind he was, how thoughtful he was and how he truly appreciated the awesome people in his life.
Kate is a strong, brave young woman who reflects so beautifully what it’s like to live every day both like you have forever and like it might be the last one you have. She’s made the choice to go to college, and to make decisions as though she has a definite future she has to plan for. She is aware, though, that she might not have a future and tries to live purposefully and without regrets. She doesn’t opt for foolish experiences which might seem glamorous but would recklessly damage her health but she does reach for joy wherever she can find it. And she finds quite a bit of it in Jack.
Together these two are captivating and delightful. They are ordinary – but in the sense of being the very best humanity has to offer in a very typical, simple setting. They’re playful and silly and serious and sweet, and the author does a great job of showing us why they are right for each other. What they have in common serves as a bond between them, whether it’s music or cereal choices, but their differences connect them as well. It would have been easy to make Jack the caregiver for a fragile Kate, but she isn’t portrayed that way and he is never more caregiver than lover. It’s important to her that they enjoy moments “where I’m not the sick girl. Where you look at me the way you did when I wasn’t wearing oxygen” and that is exactly what happens. Even when he sits in an ICU hospital room, watching her struggle for air, their relationship is filled with corny, quippy remarks and silly but meaningful moments. I have never been as sick as Kate but I have had some brushes with bad health and these scenes reminded me how powerfully healing everyday happiness can be.
I mentioned before that I loved the interconnectedness of the tale. A lot of times in a love story, the secondary characters are just add-ons to give the hero and heroine a semblance of a life before they met. Here, they are fully drawn individuals who have important parts to play in Jack’s and Kate’s lives, even after they meet. Which is wonderful and amazing because these two have some really fantastic people around them.
Opposite of Always is everything I love in a romance. It’s about two people I could really know in life who have a terrific love story with ups and downs and smiles and tears. It highlights how love is an everyday miracle available to everyone and is a novel for anyone who loves stories about falling in love.