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Opposite of Always

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Opposite of Always Book Poster Image
Boy tries to stop girl's death in romantic time-travel tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

This is a fantasy, meant to entertain, but readers will learn about sickle cell disease, which afflicts a main character.

Positive Messages

Be grateful for the people you care about, and the people who care about you. Be gentle with others because you don't know what they might be going through.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters are teens from diverse ethnic backgrounds who are true friends. There are nuanced descriptions of the kids' different family situations, ranging from Jack, who has strong, married parents, to his friend Franny, who has a father who's done time in prison and a supportive grandmother. The ex-convict father is presented sympathetically but not glorified.

Violence

A teen character is shot by a homeowner while cutting through a gated community. 

Sex

Jack and Kate love to kiss, but the descriptions are tender, not graphic. One scene includes a vague implication they've had sex. The major subplot is a romantic (not sexual) love triangle that gets emotionally intense. Jack and Jillian, his best friend's girlfriend, also kiss (with tongue).

Language

Infrequent strong language, including "damn" and variations of "f--k." Most of the time, people say things like "heck."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There is a scene where the main character, an underage teen, drinks shots in a bar with his friend's father (while they have a difficult conversation that's crucial to the story).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Opposite of Always, Justin A. Reynolds' debut novel, is a bittersweet fantasy tale about a teen caught in a loop in time between the day he meets his girlfriend and the day she dies a few months later. Jack doesn't travel through time deliberately. He just keeps finding himself at the party where they met, again and again. Each time, Jack attempts to prevent her death -- including through unethical activities like gambling on a game where he knows the outcome to get the money for an experimental medical treatment. Jack and Kate do a lot of kissing, but the way it's presented is tender and not graphic. One scene implies (vaguely) that they may just have had sex. Jack and Jillian, his best friend's girlfriend, also kiss (with tongue). Jack, an underage teen, drinks shots with his friend's dad, an ex-convict who's acted as his bookie. A teen character is shot by a homeowner while cutting through a gated community.

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What's the story?

When OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS begins, high school senior Jack King is infatuated with his best friend's girl. He's a sweet, nerdy kid who's loyal to both of them; he'll never act on his feelings. Then Jack meets Kate and they fall in love. But their relationship is doomed. Kate has sickle cell anemia. (In people with this disease, the red blood cells are rigid and sticky, and are shaped like sickles. The cells are unable to carry enough oxygen.) Kate dies. Jack collapses and is transported back in time to the night he and Kate met. He finds himself in this loop again and again, trying different ways to get Kate the expensive experimental treatment that might save her life or just to spend more quality time with her before she dies. In his desperate attempts to save Kate, can he stay true to his ethics and his other friendships?

Is it any good?

This bittersweet, poetic time-traveling teen romance shows a boy struggling to prevent his girlfriend's death from serious illness. Inspired by the death of a close friend, author Justin A. Reynolds has written an intriguing fantasy about the possibility of a do-over, a chance to go back in time and do something -- anything -- to bring a loved one back to life. Opposite of Always benefits from this emotional foundation. It's easy to empathize with Jack's feelings, from his infatuation with his best friend's girl, Jillian, to his respect for his parents, to his love for Kate and his desperation not to lose her. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how a life-threatening illness, sickle-cell anemia, is portrayed in Opposite of Always. Why do you think loves stories with ill characters are so popular? Do you know any kids with serious conditions? How does that affect their lives?

  • Once Jack decides that saving Kate is his greatest priority, he's willing to sacrifice some of his values to help her. What do you think about Jack's decisions? Do you like stories that that explore hard moral choices? Which are some of your favorites?

  • The author, Justin A. Reynolds, wrote Opposite of Always after a friend died. If you've lost someone -- a pet, grandparent, parent, or friend -- what did you do to start to feel better?

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