Then and Always is the story about the second chance that everyone hopes for, but few actually receive. For Rachel Wiltshire, the book’s protagonist, it seems that she does not need one. She has a secure group of friends, a loving boyfriend, and is on the brink of an exciting new chapter at university. But when tragedy strikes, Rachel’s life spins into an entirely new direction. Five years later, a wedding forces Rachel to confront her old friends and the event that changed her life forever, but she finds that she is still struggling with the grief and everything that could have been. While encountering old faces and hearing new stories from the past, Rachel has a terrible fall.
When she wakes up, everything is different. She is a journalist, not in administration. She is wealthy and successful. She is engaged. She has everything she ever wanted and then some. Most importantly, it appears that she is happy. Except, she remembers everything about her life, and it is nothing like this one. With the help of some familiar (and unexpected) people, Rachel tries to reconcile her new life with her old one to determine what exactly happened to give her this second chance at the life that she actually wanted.
First-time author Dani Atkins has crafted a thought provoking yet surprisingly light story that succeeds in premise, characters, and plot pacing. Although the concept of dual realities and cause-and-effect have been visited many times in literature and film, I enjoyed how Atkins did not really use it to restrain Rachel in her journey. A lot of the time characters who are dealing with a split life are constricted by their knowledge and try to ensure that they do not share any piece of their other life so that they do not impact the one that they are currently living in at all. Atkins uses amnesia to explain Rachel’s very apparent consciousness of her old, sad life to the other characters, thereby creating a setting where her knowledge does not directly impact the timeline of her second life.
What it does affect is how Rachel navigates her new world going forward. She not only develops an understanding of her relationships and life within this happy, wealthy world, but she is able to cross-reference it with her emotions and decisions in her other life. Here, Atkins touches upon a really interesting point about how we can draw from our previous experiences in order to impact our current situation, even if it is the life that we always wanted. By doing this, she contemplates second chances, not in terms of just having one, but how we can make them more fulfilling, even in the most ideal situation.
Then and Always is a great beach read because Atkins makes it easy to identify with the characters and the storyline. Instead of providing endless amounts of backstory before Rachel enters her second life, Atkins informs her readers of only the necessary facts. Since there is a lot of overlap between the two timelines, we are able to learn more about Rachel as we submerge ourselves into the thick of the plot, rather than having to sift through half a book that focuses on character development before the story actual goes anywhere. By the time readers meet all of the principle characters in the first few chapters, you have a fairly good grasp on their fundamental personalities that carry over into the rest of the book. None of them are particularly original, but it helps to create this sense of familiarity while you are reading.
There is nothing wrong with feeling comfortable. In fact, I think one of the main takeaways from Then and Always is that one should reflect on the circumstances and the people that lead you to be happy. Most of all, it teaches us that we can build and rebuild a life that incorporates those things. While Rachel’s journey to figure this out is certainly heartening, humorous and yes, mainly confusing, it is also incredibly satisfying, just as life should be.
I received an advanced copy of Then and Always from Penguin Canada in exchange for participating in their blog tour. Then and Always will be released tomorrow (May 20th) in Canada via Penguin Canada.