I’m a sucker for alternate reality stories, and Dani Atkins’ Then And Always – A Novel had my heart, mind and curiosity racing to the end. This book is one truly addictive read.
It’s difficult to decide what to reveal about the plot. I definitely don’t want to give away too much, but I also want to whet your appetite: Main character Rachel Wiltshire is at a pivotal point in her life… She’s about to go off to college to study a subject she loves, surrounded by a group of close-knit friends and a wealthy, attentive boyfriend (who, unfortunately, is a tad superficial too.) There’s another boy, Jimmy, who’s been her friend since grammar school… And Jimmy really loves with Rachel, but she can never quite return his feelings.
Then one night, something major tears Rachel’s near-perfect world apart. Then five years later, her reality twists yet again– this time by a pivotal event that makes her question everything that’s ever happened.
Atkins writes so masterfully, it was easy to see the story unfold in my mind like a movie. Even though her characters don’t always act exactly like “real” people, they still came to life for me. I felt great sympathy for Rachel, who has to live through several huge upheavals, reversals– and the resulting confusion.
Atkins’ language has a British lilt to it, which is both delightful and perfect for (what is essentially) a romance book. The author also possesses a superior command of nuance– especially when conveying the characters’ feelings through small, meaningful gestures… Making for fully realized, if sometimes eccentric, people.
If there’s one thing I could criticize here, it’s the habit many romance authors have of keeping their love interests apart– for not-quite-realistic reasons– for almost an entire novel… Even if, I have to admit, these tactics do draw out the suspense. I also found it a little irritating how (after the second major plot point hits) Rachel keeps insisting she’s dead and in heaven. She continues making these proclamations for quite some time– to the point you want to tell her to give it a rest. Still, the finer points of the Atkins’ story far outweigh these minor criticisms.
I was glad to discover my fears– that the story might leave the reader hanging, not explaining everything– were unfounded. The ending is satisfying and logical to the story, neatly wrapping up all the events. My fascination with alternate realities drew me to this book, but Atkins’ expert use of language, characterization and suspense kept me reading obsessively into the night.
What’s the point of sleep… When quality YA Fiction demands my attention?