Review: Then and Always

Then and Always, Dani Atkins


Published May 20th 2014 by Ballantine Books

320 Pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads


Rachel’s life is perfect. A handsome boyfriend, great friends and the prospect of starting at university in a few weeks means she’s never been happier. But in a single heartbeat her world falls apart forever.

Five years later, Rachel is still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy that changed everything. Returning to her hometown for the first time in years, she finds herself consumed by thoughts of the life that could have been. But when a sudden fall lands her in hospital, Rachel awakes to discover that the life she had dreamed about just might be real after all.

Unable to trust her own memories, Rachel begins to be drawn further into this new world where the man she lost is alive and well but where she is engaged to be married to someone else…

Then and Always begins at a farewell celebration.  Rachel and her best friends are having a dinner party before they begin to split off to university.  Rachel’s life is pretty perfect right now.  Her boyfriend is gorgeous, her friends are loyal and she’s on her way to become a journalist.  Rachel is trying to take this night all in as she knows that her life is totally about to change.  Then the group sees a car speeding toward the restaurant window; everything changes but not in any way that could have been anticipated.

We flash forward five years and meet an extremely different Rachel.  She’s never recovered from the emotional wounds of the car accident and has significant physical injuries still.  The friendships that were so important haven’t been able to survive the aftermath, with the exception of Rachel’s best friend Sarah.  Rachel returns home for Sarah’s wedding and faces her former friends for the first time in years.  

Rachel blacks out after Sarah’s rehearsal dinner and when she wakes up an entirely different five years have passed.  These five years have been much happier and the future Rachel wakes to is much more promising.  Yet Rachel wants her old life back with its depressing familiarity.  She also wants to know she isn’t completely going crazy.  In this future Rachel has not just Sarah but her dad, a fiance, and her dear friend Jimmy to help her try to find answers.  

This was kind of frustrating because the alternative reality Rachel wakes up to is so perfect–why would she want to change things?  I wanted her to just accept it and go along with things.  Take the great life and just live it girl!  I was so hopeful for her future in this life. Why would you want to be miserable?  I wanted her to have more spunk!  

I wanted to know what made Rachel so incredible that she had this amazing boyfriend, a friend clearly in love with her, and the best friend who can do no wrong.  What about her led her to this perfect life?  I wish we had more history with her.  Rachel’s friends were kind of stock characters- doting male best friend, the cruel beautiful girl, the boyfriend who is too good to be true-and I wished there had been more depth to them.  I think it would have made both scenarios better had they been more fleshed out. Don’t get me wrong, I did like the story overall, I just wanted MORE.  

I read Then and Always in one night because I was so determined to find out what was happening to Rachel.  Was this magic? Was it a delusion?  Would we even get an answer?   I picked up some hints of what Atkins was leading to, but wow that ending was not at all what I expected.  I sat on the couch with tears at the end of this book trying to put it all together in my mind.  This book will make you think about second chances at life in a new way.  I will definitely check out Atkins’ next book to see where she goes from this debut.

3 stars

Thank you Ballentine Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Addendum from Holly: I haven’t read this book, but, reading this review I was immediately reminded of a recent story on This American Life, about a woman who woke up from a coma and had forgotten that she was divorced. This made everything kind of awkward with her ex-husband and her family! If you don’t listen to TAL, you are missing out. Check out Episode 526 for the coma story. And then you’ll have something like 525 more to catch up on…

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