The idea of parallel universes makes my head explode, but in a good way. In Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder, it plays out on a global scale: A man smashes a butterfly in the distant past and destroys the present as we know it. In Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young’s Just Like Fate, it plays out on a more personal scale. Which, as much as I love the Bradbury story, is a much more emotionally engaging premise.
I love thinking about how any given decision could be a diverging point for YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. Turn right, you bump into your soul mate; turn left, you trip, break a heel and drop your phone face down on the sidewalk. (Of course, thinking about all of the possible outcomes of any given choice could lead to inactivity-through-terror, but let’s just focus on the COOL ASPECTS of the idea.) In Just Like Fate, Patrick and Young play with that concept, but they give it a slight twist by throwing fate into the mix: They suggest that ultimately, down the road, you might end up in the same place...but regardless of that, the journey matters more than the destination.
After her beloved grandmother suffers a stroke, 17-year old Caroline Cabot has a simple decision to make: stay at the hospice center with her grandmother, surrounded by her mostly estranged family, or sneak out for a couple of hours to blow off some steam at a college party with her friends. The book is divided into alternating “Stay” and “Go” chapters, and although each storyline tells the story of a completely different journey, they complement and parallel each other, sometimes situationally, sometimes emotionally.
This premise could easily have resulted in a book that reads like a literary exercise*, but Just Like Fate succeeds across the board. It feels like a real story about real people, and the aforementioned parallels are overt enough to be noticeable—in one storyline, Caroline connects with a boy via banter; in the other, she attempts the same sort of banter with a different boy and it falls flat—while still being subtle enough to avoid being gimmicky. Patrick and Young write seamlessly in the same voice; Caroline is believable, imperfect and sympathetic; and her friends and family are just as believable and well-drawn.
Most impressively of all, neither path ends up being easier than the other, which suggests that the authors wrote Caroline’s story without judging her, which keeps it from being at all didactic. In the “Go” chapters, this is especially clear, as Caroline makes choices that could be easy to condemn from the outside, but her emotional state—and even her reasoning for making the decisions she makes—is conveyed so well that it’s impossible not to empathize with and root for her.
Earlier this year, I read and loved Suzanne Young’s The Program, so this was an automatic read for me, but I enjoyed it so very much that Cat Patrick has earned a spot on that shortlist as well. Although they’re quite different in tone, fans of Before I Fall would do well to pick it up.
*See Gil Marsh and The Tragedy Paper for recent examples of that phenomenon. Kirkus and I completely disagreed about The Tragedy Paper, and neither of us was a huge fan of Gil Marsh, though our reasons were different.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.