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Opposite of Always

Jack Ellison King is, in his words, "an authority on Almost." "You name it," his first-person narration states, "I've found a way to miss my chance." It's ironic, then, that the self-proclaimed "Jack of all. King of none" is named after trailblazers Jackie Robinson and Ralph Ellison.

It's senior year and Jack is in love with his best friend, Jillian. Unfortunately, her boyfriend, Franny, is Jack's "other best friend." Jack loves them both and "would never consider doing anything to jeopardize their relationship." But he never really stops thinking about Jillian and his habit of "missing out." Thus, when he meets a girl at a Whittier College party, he decides to go for it--he will actively pursue the funny, interesting, mysterious, college-freshman Kate. Though they quickly fall for each other, Kate keeps Jack at arms-length. She finally explains this distance to him while literally on her deathbed: she is "genetically unwell" and is consequently fearful of romantic entanglements. Immediately after this conversation, she dies. Soon after, surprisingly, Jack dies, too: "a shrill of feedback blasts between my ears and I know this is the end.... Good night." --And then, Jack is at the Whittier College party again, meeting Kate for the first time....

Groundhog Day-style, Jack begins to live his senior year over and over, always resetting when Kate dies. Reynolds builds a world that changes realistically with each iteration, always showing how Jack's actions affect others. Relationships take a central role in this passionate novel, as Reynolds delves into the emotional experience of Jack's inner circle, giving them and their interpersonal connections depth. It's an intense ride and readers are likely going to want to stick with Jack to the (real) end. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness