Then and Always

then and alwaysThen and Always
by Dani Atkins
Published by Ballantine
320 pages
Genre: women’s fiction 
3.5 / 5


To paraphrase the Grateful Dead (no pun intended … and I mean, read this book and you’ll understand why THAT IS A FUNNY LINE), love is one long, strange trip.

Rachel has an enviable life. She has a loyal band of friends, a gorgeous boyfriend, and she’s preparing to enter university. If her best friend Jimmy seems a little off, surely it has everything to do with them heading in different educational directions and nothing at all to do with her boyfriend Matt, right?

The group of friends heads out for a celebratory dinner one night, and an accident occurs. Rachel is alive, but one friend is not – and that friend died trying to save her.

Five years later, Rachel carries the burden of that night like Sisyphus and his stone. She will make small advancements, only to succumb to debilitating grief. These scenes are crushing to read as Dina Atkins forces us to face dead on the sadness, fear, loneliness, and guilt that Rachel feels. It has taken her five years, after all, to meet her friends again.

After sharing a dinner together, Rachel falls ill … and wakes up to a different reality. She’s still with the gorgeous boyfriend, and her friend who died? Is very much alive.

To say that Rachel is confused is to woefully understate her predicament. What is true – her memories of what her life was like before the illness or what her life appears to be like now? She remembers her “before” life so clearly and distinctly that it must be true, right? But if it is, then what is she living now?

Again, Atkins sparse us no grief or pain, or any joy and happiness.

As Rachel tries to figure out what is real and what isn’t, I found myself wondering how Atkins was going to resolve the two. Some of her plot points are broadcast quite loudly, but the twist was far more subtle. There are clues, yes, but those clues are delivered lightly and carefully.

While I enjoyed the book tremendously, it does have its flaws. There are the heavy handed clues, and there are some stock characters whose motivations and actions are easily predictable. Rachel, though, makes it worth your while to read this book. She will make you cry and make you smile, and that’s the sort of character we enjoy spending time getting to know.

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