then and always (a.k.a. fractured in the u.k.)
When Ballatine gave me the opportunity to read this debut novel by author Dani Atkins, I was under the impression that it was a YA novel and, despite learning otherwise while reading the book, I had some difficulty shaking the notion.
Rachel's story does begin when she is graduating high school, and so although her initial little-girl like infatuation with the prettiest boy in school and her obliviousness to her idiocy in this was off-putting, I stuck with it because I forgave her her youth.
I am glad to have stuck with the story because, on the whole, I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the infatuation without any foundation, and the obliviousness without any insight (i.e. still teenage - and a young teenage at that - sort of thinking), felt present throughout the book, even though most of it is spent with 23-year old (and world-weary and damaged) Rachel.
The book is set in England, but for the story telling the reader that, and referencing London, for example, it felt distinctly lacking any set-in-England-ness. There were a couple of slang words thrown in here and there, but mostly the dialogue and the setting felt like it could have been New York, or Colorado, just as easily as England. I found this odd, and, odder still, that there were words or phrases that seemed very American to me, and that I know from experience from my time in England myself, that the British use other words. After discovering that the book was originally released in England under the name Fractured (which I like a lot more and feel is more appropriate to the story), I do have to wonder if the edition published here was edited for an American audience?
**PLEASE take the following with the caveat that I read an ARC of this novel and some things may have changed by publication, hence I am also not including the actual words from the book: I was also repeatedly soured on some of the chosen phrases, being time-beaten and cliched. I actually enjoyed Rachel and Jimmy and I did enjoy the romance, but then to provide then with very stock phrases (usually when declaring love, or gazing at one another) felt like discounting the characters.
So, enough of what didn't work for me.
The clever and puzzling world: In the first chapter, Rachel is out with her boyfriend and friends for her high school graduation dinner when a car plows through the restaurant window, and she is badly maimed, while her friend Jimmy is killed after saving her life. Five years later, she's living a dismal life in London, when she returns home to attend her best friend's wedding. While visiting Jimmy's graveside, she collapses. When she wakes up, everything is different: she remembers the last five years, including the accident, but discovers that no one else does, and Jimmy is alive at her side. There's a well-used trope in this scenario, but I felt that Atkins pulled it off very well.
The concept and the execution were a lot of fun. I read compulsively, wanting to know what happened next. When Rachel wakes up and finds Jimmy alive (along with other, slightly less significant changes), her reaction and the questions she asks felt very authentic to me, very much like what I would imagine myself saying in her place.
I cannot say I liked everything about this book but certainly found it intriguing and well written enough to happily finish it, and I will be keeping an eye out for what Atkins does next (another book is scheduled to be released this year, at least in the U.K.).