First of all, let me start this blog off by saying that there will be spoilers, but this book is so delightfully refreshing, you won’t mind buying it after reading this. That being said, let’s dive in! Oh, and if you don’t know what Opposite of Always is about, please check out our review under the Mainstream Book Reviews tab.
Contemporary African American Fiction and Urban Fiction have become so heavily intertwined over the last three decades, some find it hard to tell them apart. The only African American fiction that seems to get the spotlight now a days, are the ones that showcase us as drug dealers/addicts, promiscuous, law-breakers-for-a-living, violent, searching for social justice, or being murdered by the police. Some of these narratives are important, but they’re not the only stories that define life as an African American. There is more to our life experiences and Opposite of Always explores that in a fun, sad, comedic, and engaging way.
Jack Ellison King, a teen who by his own description is adequate or “almost” at best, sits on the stairs at a college party, pining after his best friend (who coincidentally happens to be dating his other best friend). Just as he is about to wallow further in private and quiet despair, a voice from behind accuses him of damming up the stairs. He turns to see Kate, the girl destined to rule his young heart with a gentle, humorous, and kind reign. She sits down beside him and so begins the moment in this story that will play out again and again with so many different outcomes. Certain things, however, always remain. Jack’s love for Kate. Kate’s love for Jack. Their shared love of cereal.
Such a simple narrative, right? Young love, sharing a bond over something common, but unique to them. Unfortunately for the budding couple, problems are soon to come their way. Jack and Kate spend the night of the party talking and getting to know each other in a cute and non-sexual way. Just two teens who are interested in each other and hanging out. The next day, Jack’s friend and former crush, Jillian, becomes distant towards him. After a few days of the silent treatment, it is finally revealed that she’s having problems at home and is secretly jealous that Jack is interested in someone else. It’s not that Jillian is romantically inclined towards Jack because she isn’t. Things are changing rapidly for her, with her father leaving, and the small group friends graduating high school that year. She’s afraid that the dynamic of her and Jack’s friendship will change and she’ll lose him forever. A selfish thought, but also an understandable one. I mean, who doesn’t want their cake and eat it too?
Although Kate is clearly interested in Jack, she remains slightly standoffish for reasons he can’t understand. Despite that, he cautiously asks her to his prom, she reluctantly agrees, but in the ends, never shows up for Jack to take her. The book is told from Jack’s point of view, so of course he doesn’t ‘cry’ about being jilted by the love of his life. Instead, he just had something in his eyes that caused them to tear up constantly for whatever reason… Anyway, he gets a call from Kate weeks later, telling him that she is in the hospital. He goes to her, broken heart aside and no questions asked. There, he finds her with her mother. Kate doesn’t tell him what’s wrong, or even why she’s in the hospital, but she does apologize and asks him to remember her on quiet, rainy nights. Jack is understandably confused, but at the urging of Kate’s mother, he goes home, only to be awoken later on by news of her death. Startled, hurt, and afraid that he’s lost the only girl he’s ever truly loved, only a few hours after reconnecting with her, Jack rushes to meet her mom at the hospital. In the process, Jack’s foot misses a stair and he falls, cracking his neck and dying. Tragic, I know but thankfully, this is not how the story ends. In fact… its only the beginning…
You cannot add more sand to the hourglass, but apparently, under the right circumstances, you can flip the whole thing over and start again. Jack doesn’t know how it happened and the story doesn’t explain it, but somehow after breaking his neck, he ends up at the exact moment he met Kate for the first time. This happens over and over again with different results. Sometimes he gets so close to her that they kiss. Other times, he becomes so distant from his friends, they shun him. One time, Kate goes to his parents’ anniversary party and yet on another trip to the past, they call the whole thing off. The whole journey of Jack’s many attempts at keeping Kate alive becomes taxing after awhile, but honestly in the best way. I became so emotionally invested in these characters, I was yelling at Jillian for being so selfish, begging Kate to tell Jack the truth sooner, and crying with Jack every time he failed to save her. My heart ached for the King of Almost, and the Queen of Just Okay. But, the thing is, almost, almost always becomes downright absolute if you do it enough times. Ok, ready for some real spoilers? If not, stop reading now. But, if you are…….
After many fruitless attempts and heartbreaks, Kate lives!!! She finally lives, and so does Jack. THEY LIVE!!! Please excuse my use of caps but, for me, that was the absolute BEST part of the story. Two Black kids, neither of which is a rapper, gangster, promiscuous, an athlete or some sort of entertainer, fall in love. Neither of them cheats on the other or makes a living cheating the law. They’re both just two genuinely good people, living normal lives. And Jack is a boy, growing into a man, willing to do whatever it takes to save the girl that he loves. And how does the story end? With Jack and Kate dancing sillily in her room because at the end of the day, they’re just kids who love each other.
After finishing this book, I had to take a short break from reading to process. A pet peeve of mine has always been that the African American community has never been allowed true love in the book world. What I mean by this is that when it comes to love, we are force-fed the notion that first comes lust, then comes sex, and only after that can love be found. But that’s not true. Plenty of us meet people, find them interesting, chose to date them, FALL IN LOVE WITH THEM, and only after that, began to plan out a life in their direction. We’ve had our fair share of Jacks and Roses in our literary community, but so few Noahs and Allies.Why so few Noahs and Allies? Well my friends, for me, this story is and will forever be, my Notebook.