Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds: A Review

by Anna Fattizzo

 

Opposite of Always is the perfect novel for any teen who is a sucker for romance. The novel follows the delightful journey of highschool senior Jack King and his relationship with chance encounter college students Kate. Upon meeting Jack and Kate are instantaneously compatible and for once in his life average teen, Jack feels extraordinary. Unfortunately, Kate suddenly dies just as the relationship is picking up steam. Unable to face reality Jack finds himself in a never-ending time travel loop in which he attempts to halt her untimely death. However when Jack arouses suspicion and more is put at risk then just Kate’s life he faces an ethical dilemma: How much are you willing to lose to change the past?

 

One of the most attractive features of the novel is the likable characters. Jack’s relationship with his best friends Jillian and Franny provides the right amount of comedy and heart without being too corny. From the very moment, Kate yells at Jack for blocking the stairs the reader falls in love with her. The zany cereal obsession and undeniable chemistry cause you to root for Jack and Kate in each timeline despite the inevitable reality of her death. One of the reasons the novel is so successful is because of Jack providing a sensible character core. Many readers might find his nerves surrounding his first dating experience relatable and feel for the inability to control the uncontrollable things in life. 

 

The novel also had strong subtle details that made the story work as a whole. One of the most well-done subtleties that the author included was about Kate’s struggle with sickle cell anemia. That detail was a clever way to raise a nugget of awareness that the disease disproportionately affects the black community. Another thing worth noting about the novel was how the time travel didn’t feel overly redundant. Typically whenever reading a time travel book or seeing a movie it is predictable and easy to discern that an overall point will be made about how time travel messes with unintended things. While this novel did address that feature, it didn’t seem as cliche considering the concept of the book focused on teenagers. The cliche was utilized to make a good point about how teenagers feel that everything is perpetually heightened and it attempts to teach that just some things including tragedy are out of our control. 

 

Overall the novel was an enjoyable romance read. The novel did a commendable job capturing the teenage experience. The novel cleverly pinpointed how centralized teens feel they are in relation to the world. Opposite of Always is a great recommendation for anyone who simply loves a good romance or whats to disappear to perfect reality.  

 

Ballad of the Songbirds and Snakes: A Review

By: Sydney Huynh

The Hunger Games Trilogy was very impactful on my life for being the book that started up my passion for reading at a young age, as I’m sure it was for others. I was very excited to read it when it was first announced and pre-ordered the book right away. I thought this book was going to be something that I could not put down once I started, but I learned quickly how wrong I was. 

This review will be done spoiler-free and written from the viewpoint of a teen. 

Suzanne Collins delivered us a book about Coriolanus Snow, who is eighteen at the time (making you wonder how old he actually is in the trilogy) and is given the opportunity to be a mentor in the tenth annual Hunger Games. The games are very fresh and different from the games we knew at the beginning of the trilogy. Snow’s family used to be rich, but after the rebellion, he has been driven to poverty. The student that mentors the winning tribute of the Hunger Games will receive a scholarship to the Academy and Snow desperately needs to win. It’s just unfortunate that he receives Lucy Gray, the female tribute from district twelve, who seems to have low chances of winning. I thought that this concept was really interesting at first until I started reading. 

Lack of emotion and events seemed to be the biggest problem. There was not enough suspense that left me on the edge of my seat. There were events that did pique my interest, but it seemed to be executed poorly, especially with the pacing of this book. 

Things that occurred, happened really fast and then disappeared as soon as they came, making it harder for me to process what really happened. There was no suspense because there were no stakes for Snow. We all know that Snow lives to see another day and eventually becomes the President of Panem. Even if he did something that seemed rebellious against the Capitol, the reader knows that he will not go through with it. It is like seeing the main character of a movie die when there is still an hour left in the movie, in most cases. This is a common problem with prequels based on what I’ve read. 

Coriolanus Snow was not an interesting character from the very beginning. He was narcissist and possessive, which made off the vibe of being emotionless, almost like a blank slate. We learn that his mindset is like a tyrant from a young age. When Snow meets Lucy Gray, he tries to adapt his personal Capitol ideologies to her even though she was born in the Districts. Another trait he possessed was being manipulative, he was able to make the people around him, who made decisions more emotionally than him, bend to his needs in order to prove his loyalty to the Capitol. 

 

There were quite a few things that I did like. Majority of them being all the different ties to the original trilogy: The Flickermans, Heavensbee Hall, Tigris, and mostly The Hanging Tree. I loved the little add ons that helped to explain this magnificent world that Collins created. The readers got to see how influential Snow was on the Games and how they came to be. He implemented the key elements of the Games that drastically changed how the Capitol would soon control the Districts. The Hanging Tree and Meadow song that Katniss sings in the trilogy was highlighted beautifully in this prequel. It made me appreciate the songs more with the additional knowledge acquired.  

The characters that influenced and circulated around Snow; like Lucy Gray, Sejanus, Dr. Gaul, and Tigris were more interesting. They were characters I could empathize with and had more distinct personalities compares to Snow. Dr. Gaul especially had ideologies that were in a way right but she twists them to fit her insane mindset which, was wrong. She was an interesting character to follow, seeming to push Snow towards the manipulative side. 

This book was not one for plot or romance like the Hunger Games trilogy. This was one for thinking. Collins imputed a lot of different ideologies and ties it to real-life. As a teen, I do not understand it as well as others and that might be the reason I had trouble grasping the book. I most likely skimmed over important ideas that Collins was emphasizing. In this review, the things I did enjoy were mainly things to do with the plot, i.e the characters and origin stories. I did not enjoy the book as much as I thought I would. But maybe when I am an adult and decide to read this again, I might learn to appreciate it more than I do now.