In the first half of this year I discovered a sub-genre I'm totally in love with: stories involving alternate/parallel universes. I adore Pivot Point to pieces and Parallel was surprisingly endearing and good. Then I made it my goal to read all the books in this sub-genre coming out this year, and Just Like Fate popped up on my radar. I was excited, and I wanted to love it, but it brought nothing new to the table (except maybe eye rolls).
Within 50 pages, warning bells went off for me. It was something I should have realized when I first read the synopsis, but the set up for the alternate timelines definitely didn't work for me. Basically, Caroline's grandmother (who she lives with and takes care of her) has terminal cancer and is dying. She's in the hospice, basically waiting to die, and on the fourth night Caroline is faced with a choice: to stay by her side for the night or to go, on her best friend's insistence, to a party. Thus the two timelines are created but... hold up! In one timeline, she really leaves her grandmother on her death bed and goes to a party?
Admittedly, there's extra justification in that, well, what are the odds that she'd die on that night (spoiler alert: she does), her sister's being a total bitch to her and she can't stand being in the same room as her for a second longer, and after three whole nights of staying by her grandmother's side she deserves a break. ... Ummm...
Yes, I should have realized this from the outset, by reading the synopsis. But honestly, the set up could have been more acceptable if she'd just... you know, been there every night for two weeks, and there still wasn't a sign of an end to come. Just simply changing it by that much would have made the whole "Go" storyline more plausible. Because now, the result is, I'm already rolling my eyes at this contrived plot, thinking it was the "easy way out" in terms of set up, which diminishes my interest to keep reading in the first place, and even when I do push on, I find myself scoffing at the Caroline in the "Go" storyline because I already hate her selfish behavior.
My dislike for Caroline as a main character also spilled over into the "Stay" storyline. I don't know. Possibly due to the bad set up for the timelines, I found it very hard to find a connection with her. Her personality lacked a spark, and I was just bored reading about her. She was so much a typical teenager in terms of jealous behavior, overreactions, parental detachment... I was gleefully happy when she felt guilty about leaving her grandmother and not getting to say goodbye to her because I felt that was righteous justice. Erm, yeah, and when you start thinking that way about the main character, it's pretty much a done deal.
Though there are separate timelines, this is not sci-fi at all, and totally contemporary fiction, with a focus on relationships, be they platonic, familial, or romantic. I do like that focus, and I ended up really liking the development of the relationship between Caroline and her sister, Natalie. In the "Go" storyline, Caroline ends up moving in with her estranged father to have a fresh start, and I really liked that too, as I related to that quite a bit on a personal level. Father-daughter relationships are just very dear to my heart, and I liked how this one was ultimately presented, including the addition of a surprisingly sweet stepmother into the equation.
The romance was... all right, but I barely felt the chemistry. In each timeline, Caroline is met with the interest of a different guy. While Chris, in the "Go" storyline, was definitely more charming and very lovable, I was torn since I was sworn to hate that storyline in the first place. Besides, he was charming as a character, but I didn't really feel the romantic chemistry. Joel, in the "Stay" storyline, was, quite simply, a prat and he angered me. Lots.
At certain points, Just Like Fate was such a walking, talking cliché that I was overwhelmed with eyerolling. From the mean girl who literally says, "I don't need a reason to dislike you," and beats up the main character, to the sister who, at the beginning at least, constantly looks down on everything Caroline does, to Caroline herself being the most juvenile, jealous girlfriend in the world... It was exhausting to read.
All things said and done though, at the end of the book, the message definitely came across. Much like the themes of Pivot Point and Parallel, certain points in life are fixed, but you do have some self-control over the choices you make, and it's the journey towards your "fate" that makes all the difference. I like that message, overall, I do... But since I've already read two books that struck that chord and did it better, I couldn't help but grow annoyed that I sat through 300 pages to get to that point. The journey to that message here? It was just plain boring.
Annoyance and boredom are the two prevailing emotions I had while reading this book. Though I did like certain aspects (the relationships between the characters and the eventual message of the book), when I look back on this book, the first thing I'll remember is how ridiculous and frustrating the set up of the timelines was. If you are interested in fate-related stories or alternate timelines, let this be your first foray into the sub-genre. If you've read others, like I have, this brings nothing new to the table.
Those very interested in the concept of fate.