Monday, February 22, 2021

Early Departures - Justin A. Reynolds

Summary: Justin A. Reynolds, author of Opposite of Always, delivers another smart, funny, and powerful stand-alone YA contemporary novel, with a speculative twist in which Jamal’s best friend is brought back to life after a freak accident . . . but they only have a short time together before he will die again. Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know he’s about to die . . . again.

He also doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save his life, rescuing him from drowning only to watch Q die later in the hospital. Even more complicated, Jamal and Q haven’t been best friends in two years—not since Jamal’s parents died in a car accident, leaving him and his sister to carry on without them. Grief swallowed Jamal whole, and he blamed Q for causing the accident.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? An impossible chance that would grant him the opportunity to say goodbye to his best friend? A new health-care technology allows Q to be reanimated—brought back to life like the old Q again. But there’s a catch: Q will only reanimate for a short time before he dies . . . forever.

Jamal is determined to make things right with Q, but grief is hard to shake. And he can’t tell Q why he’s suddenly trying to be friends with him again. Because Q has no idea that he died, and Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin the miracle by telling him. How can Jamal fix his friendship with Q if he can’t tell him the truth? (summary and pic from

My Review: There were a lot of great things about this book. First of all, I loved the use of a fictional technology to achieve the big question of this book—what would you do if you were given a second chance to fix a friendship? This is a young adult book, and I think that it is very pertinent to YA audiences, but I also think it’s pertinent to adults. As with many YA books I feel like adults would benefit from reading a book like this. Sometimes YA fic allows itself to explore questions and theories that adult books don’t. Adults get offended, ya know, and feel like there needs to be a lot of discussion before a topic can be breached. YA books just jump right in and call it like it is. There isn’t time or space (or need, really) to beat around the bush. Now, I realize that this leaves a lot of nuance out, and of course the older a person get the more complicated we realize life really is, but I always appreciate the candor of a well-written YA book that is able to just say it like it is.

One of the strengths of this book is certainly the characters. They’re really well-written and realistic feeling. One of the things that makes a good character is that they’re fallible. There is no one too virtuous and no one too evil. Most people are just chillin’ in the middle, with both positive and negative things to their personalities. Reynolds did a great job of this. The characters certainly had flaws, but you could see why those flaws were there, or sometimes they were just there because we’re flawed. Also, humans don’t always act rationally and then must pay the consequences of that, and Reynolds was not afraid to let his characters experience that. Sometimes the story didn’t go how I wanted, but it felt authentic that way. As a reader I feel like I tend to want things to go neatly along and resolve cleanly, but they just don’t. A good author recognizes this and lets the story take the natural course.

The story in this book is believable in that I think relationships are complicated, and teen relationships are volatile and evolving. The technology to bring Q back to life wasn’t necessarily discussed, but it didn’t matter. Sometimes I’m annoyed when books take liberties that seem ridiculous with no explanation, but this book had an interesting way of feeling very much like a modern book, any kind of well-written YA book, but had this very sci-fi element that fit in quite naturally. That was surprising, but I appreciated how Reynolds was able to allow that actual part to not really matter. It helped that the YA characters were probably more accepting and willing to buy into such a thing.

One thing that I really thought was interesting and cool about this book is that it featured relationships between male characters. So many YA books like this feature female characters and their relationships. I understand that readers are mostly female, but of course there are male readers and there should be books that represent them and the complications of their relationships. Having characters that were Black and YA male teens is great; it acknowledges different kinds of friendship that obviously applies to many readers and I hope that there are lots of readers who appreciate this and relate.

I think this is an exceptional book for YA readers, especially YA male readers. I really appreciated the representation of Black YA teens, and I think that readers of all cultural backgrounds and identities will relate to the hard questions this book addresses.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and some light discussion of teenage love and sex.

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