Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book Review: 'Then and Always' by Dani Atkins

Dani Atkin's heartbreaking novel, "Then and Always," is a moving story of love and loss. In 2008, Rachel Wiltshire and her chums assemble for a farewell dinner in a restaurant before they leave for university. Suddenly, a horrible accident interrupts the festivities. Five years pass. Rachel, now twenty-three, is scarred physically and emotionally by what she has endured. Shockingly, the author then upends our perception of events by presenting a alternate reality. Both scenarios cannot be true; for a long time, we do not know what to believe.

In lesser hands, this tricky premise might have been irritating and manipulative. However, Atkins's plot and characters are so finely crafted and appealing that we are hooked and eager to make sense of Rachel's incomprehensible experiences. Underlying this compelling tale is an exploration of such universal questions as: What distinguishes lasting devotion from a superficial attachment? How does a person whose heart is broken find the strength to go on with his or her life?

The book's ending is likely to puzzle if not infuriate some readers, but the conclusion is the only possible one given what has transpired. "Then and Always" is wrenching, mysterious, and enriched by its timeless message: When we have the opportunity to fulfill our hopes and dreams, we should not put off our efforts to make them come true.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right