Early Departures

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Early Departures Book Poster Image
Boy reconciles with dead friend in sublime fantasy tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story gives a deep look at the experience of grief, including anger, sadness, irrational thinking, and lashing out.

Positive Messages

Seize the day. Savor life. Let go of your regrets. Forgive the people you love, including yourself. It gets better.

Positive Role Models

Adults in two teens' lives step in to shepherd them through the practical and emotional challenges of losing parents. An elder sister acts as guardian, a supportive principal who exercises tough love, a mother who befriends her son's friend as they both process they boy's death. Two teen boys exhibit a deep level of intimacy and vulnerability, defying the usual portrayals of male friendships. Romantic relationships between a teen boy and girl as well as a pair of young adults depict how couples can negotiate healthy relationships, even when there is conflict between them or external pressure on them.


Two teens have a fistfight.


Teens make out with romantic partners. Ambiguous hints that one teen couple has had intercourse. A baby is born to an unmarried couple.


Strong language includes "s--t," "f--k," "mindf--k," "ass," and "dumbass."


YouTube (disguised as "TuberYou") figures in the plot.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink wine during an outing at an amusement park.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in Early Departures, a speculative novel by Justin A. Reynolds (The Opposite of Always), an African American teen, Jamal, gets a second chance to reconcile with his recently deceased friend, Q, when an experimental medical procedure brings the boy to life for a short time. Grief is the primary topic: Jamal lost both parents in a car accident, and Q lost his father to cancer. There's a fistfight between two teenagers. Teens make out with romantic partners, both serious and casual; there are ambiguous hints that one teen couple has had intercourse. A baby is born to an unmarried couple. Underage teens drink wine during an outing at an amusement park. YouTube (disguised as "TuberYou") figures in the plot. Strong language includes "s--t," "f--k," "mindf--k," "ass," and "dumbass." 

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What's the story?

When EARLY DEPARTURES begins, high school student Jamal lays out the stark before and after of his life: His life changed forever the moment both his parents were killed. In his grief, Jamal cuts off the relationship with his best friend, Quincy ("Q"), neglecting to be even minimally supportive when Quincy's father is diagnosed with cancer. At a party, Quincy gets into trouble swimming; Jamal tries to save him, but he drowns. A secretive group at the hospital offers Q's mother the opportunity for her son to be "reanimated" for two months, so she can say her goodbyes. Jamal sets out to rekindle the bond before Q dies again.  

Is it any good?

This sublime book about grief brings as many smiles as tears. Like Justin A. Reynolds debut novel, Opposite of Always, Early Departures is about the feelings a person may have when people die young; aside from sadness, regret, and grief, there's the sense that it's just not right. These characters get a do-over. Two mend a friendship. And they even get a taste of the glorious future that could have been. There's also a strong message for readers about how to live. The events of their lives force each person to reflect on their choices and motives in relationships, to make sacrifices to support loved ones, and to learn to ask for help. Each person discovers and shares the special strength they have to cope with adversity and find joy. At times, the action slows down, which could lose some readers. Those who push through to the end get a payoff.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the theme of friendship in Early Departures. What does it mean to be a friend? 

  • The characters in Early Departures experience their grief in different ways. Have you ever lost someone or something important, like a person, pet, or relationship? How did it affect you?

  • If you had one thing in life to do over, what would you choose? Would you try to change the future or relive something wonderful?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love grief tales and friendship stories

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