Rachel Wiltshire has everything she’s ever wanted: a close group of friends, a handsome boyfriend, and acceptance to the journalism program at a top-choice college. But one fateful evening, tragedy tears her world apart. Five years later, Rachel returns home for the first time to celebrate her best friend’s wedding. Still coping with grief, she can’t stop thinking about the bright future she almost had, if only that one night had gone differently. But when a sudden fall lands her in the hospital, Rachel wakes to find that her life has completely changed. Now she has her dream job as a writer and a stylish apartment, but the people she loves most are not the way she remembers them. Unable to trust her own recollections, Rachel tries to piece together what really happened, and not even she can predict the astonishing truth.
Like the now dated Gwyneth Paltrow movie, Sliding Doors, Then and Always revolves around the what if flip in circumstances based on one life changing event. Unlike Sliding Doors, where it's a smaller catastrophe, Atkins goes for the throat right at the get go, and bases her switch on life and death. Because of this, the tone is darker than I expected, and many of the choices significantly more serious then I would have guessed for a story line which reminded me so immediately of a fairly light film.
Although I enjoyed the premise, Atkins missed the mark for me on a few fronts which ultimately diminished my final feelings on the book. The biggest miss for me was Rachel's reaction to loosing her good friend. Jimmy sacrificed his life to save her, and instead of living that life in full, so as to live up to that kind of debt, Rachel spends her life in deep mourning, giving up her dreams, forcing her father to move, even contributing to her fathers downfall into Cancer. That none of her close friends have ever intervened in the five years after the accident and let her know, in no uncertain terms, the kind of disservice she is paying Jimmy's sacrifice seems unlikely to me.
Almost as unlikely, is Rachel's reaction to Jimmy in her flip reality. Instead of crushing joy over Jimmy being alive and well, Rachel wastes her time moping around and trying to convince everyone around her that this isn't her life. It left me with the distinct impression that there was no pleasing Rachel, which in the end, made her very unlikeable to me.
However, I did like the play between the what-if's of her friends, especially Matt and Cathy. It would have been nice if Atkins had delved more deeply into the group of friends, instead, what we know of the rest of them is more anecdotal then anything else.
A dark story, make sure you don't pick this up for your light beach reads pile this summer. Or if you do, make sure to pack a box of Kleenex as well.
Then and Always, by Dani Atkins
Published by Penguin Canada, May 20th, 2014
My copy kindly provided by the publisher