Uneven, Yet Compelling - Just Like Fate by Suzanne Young and Cat Patrick
I think about how Simone offered me the choice to stay or go—and how it so easily could have gone the other way. For a moment, I wonder what life would look like had I gone down the other path.
I’m a sucker for “Sliding Doors”-style stories. Even though much of the time, they don’t work for me, the concept of one decision or moment being the tipping point for a series of divergent events intrigues me. I guess, philosophically-speaking, I believe there’s something to that notion.
Because of that, I was excited to learn that Suzanne Young—who’s novel The Program was a real surprise for me this summer—co-wrote a novel with Cat Patrick, Just Like Fate, examining this very concept.
The novel introduces Caroline, a teenager who’s beloved grandmother, with whom she lives, is hospitalized with a stroke. She’s been at her bedside, panicky when she discovers that Gram won’t recover. All she can think of is escape, and her best friend provides just the chance by inviting her out to a party. At this point, the story diverges into two paths: “Stay” and “Go.”
In the Stay version, Caroline stays by Gram’s bedside and says goodbye. This story is much about her complicated relationship with her sister and the opportunity to finally maybe date her longtime crush, Joel.
In the Go narrative, Caroline heads to the party and misses saying goodbye to Gram. She meets Chris, a student at a nearby college and moves in with her father and stepmother.
The two stories alternate, as the reader follows Caroline through these two possible paths, and while the characters intersect, the stories converge little.
This distinction between these two paths is both Just Like Fate’s strength and its weakness.
The clearly distinguished paths mean that the stories are well-paced and feature distinct characters, situations and even settings. The conflicts in “Stay” differ greatly from those of “Go,” so I never found myself tangled up mentally about which story thread I was following or what conflict or character is associated with which path.
On the other hand, because the two paths are so different, I found one—Go—far more compelling than the other. It’s not that anything was specifically wrong with the Stay narrative, but it was fairly predictable and dealt with many of the issues I’m used to in YA fiction, such as the disappointment of a longtime crush, sibling relationships and grief.
The Go narrative, though, features a less sympathetic Caroline, one whose decisions will likely make a lot of people uncomfortable. She’s selfish and makes a lot of decisions that aren’t kind to those around her.
However, Go Caroline also feels very real, like an authentic teenager trying to figure out her place.
She’s forced to navigate not only life without her grandmother, but a new way of interacting with her family, friends and school. I felt like Go Caroline was pushed more and the philosophical nature of the story’s conclusion fit far better with this path.
Being that I’m a sucker for an interesting romance, I also enjoyed that in the Go narrative, there was a romance that kept me guessing as to the motivations of the love interest, Chris. Like Go Caroline, Chris’ actions weren’t always perfect, but they always seemed “real.”
I haven’t said much about the Stay story, and that’s because that half of Just LIke Fate didn’t really stick with me. For me, its value was its its contrast with the other half of the narrative. Go would not have been as rewarding without Stay. I supposed that’s the nature of this ambitious storytelling technique.
In the end, I enjoyed Just Like Fate, despite the unevenness.
It’s a fast-paced read, and the Slide Doors technique is executed quite well. For me, the imbalance was in my own preferences regarding Caroline’s choice and the events which unfold as a result. I imagine most readers, like me, will find themselves heavily in one camp or another (and if you’ve read Just Like Fate, I’d love to know which one you fell into).
Just Like Fate is out on August 27, 2013
Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher.