Title: Never Always Sometimes
Author: Adi Alsaid
Published: Harlequin Teen, August 2015
Main Characters: Dave, Julia, Gretchen
Synopsis: Dave and Julia are best friends. Nothing strange about that. Prior to the beginning of their high school careers, desperate to avoid turning into the cliché high schoolers you see on TV, they collaborate on a list: things they should Never Do. With three months left of their senior year, they decide that maybe it’s time to give the Nevers list another look…
- “Well, it’s part of a longer quote, this really beautiful passage about how the best anyone can ever do is to leave the world a little better than you found it. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Invent a new toaster or reach out a helping hand; just, you know, leave it a little better than you found it.”
Dave noticed that their knees were touching. Amazing what kind of warmth could come from such slight contact. “What book is it?”
“Timbuktu by Paul Auster,” she said. “I know it’s weird to say or even think this, but that book has made me who I am. Not entirely, obviously. It didn’t help me at soccer, or make me so good at telling jokes with a straight face. But certain lines felt like they were thoughts I’d had my whole life that just hadn’t taken shape yet until I read them. ‘A little better than you found it’ is how I see everything now. Not just the world, but everything. People, too. I want people I know to be a little better off than when I found them. God, that sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?”
- How Julia had felt something so deeply for so long without knowing it herself was a mystery. As if love was a fugitive harboring in an attic, hidden even from the people residing in the house.
- “That’s not enough,” Gretchen said after a moment. “To be sorry you hurt me is not enough for me to forgive you.”
- Gretchen took a step closer to Dave, so she was less of a silhouette, the details of her face coming into focus. He couldn’t tell what she was feeling, if she was about to slap him or hug him. The moment stretched on and on without a clue as to what was on Gretchen’s mind. People walked all around them as if on fast-forward, like a film-editing trick. Dave realized he had no idea what was on anyone’s mind, not even a little.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read something so good that I actually wanted to accumulate the energy to review it. (It’s really hard to do this when your job sucks the life out of you, you guys. Hold out as long as you can.) But this book, especially the last third, resonated with me on a level that a novel hasn’t in quite a good while.
So, let’s face the facts: Dave and Julia are best friends. The book starts off in third-person-Dave, so we know right off the bat: he’s in love with her, he’s been in love with her as long as he can remember. He’s memorized her face, he’s tortured by her touch, he adores when she smiles (especially if he’s the one who caused it). When he and Julia decide to start breaking the Nevers, he can’t tell her that he’s been breaking one this whole time: #8. Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school.
Most of the Nevers are silly, things that most kids in high school take for granted. Never go skinny-dipping. Never hook up with a teacher. Never go to a beer party. They’re fun to break, and any time spent with Julia is time well-spent, no matter what they’re doing. But when they get to the lower Nevers on the list, things start to get complicated. Never date your best friend. Can that one be broken? How? Why?
Dave meets Gretchen at a party and a few things fall into place: one, Julia is never going to feel for him the way he feels for her, and two, Gretchen is pretty awesome. She’s smart, funny, pretty, and genuine. And she’s interested in him.
Naturally, it takes the lightning bolt of seeing Dave and Gretchen together for Julia’s heart to kick-start into motion: she’s in love with Dave. Of course she is. But she can never tell him. Not now, not that he’s finally found someone he loves. Who wouldn’t love Dave? Julia expresses surprise that no one’s ever taken an interest in him before. He’s handsome, intelligent, funny… oh God, she’s so in love with him.
The dance of love/not-love/platonic love that follows in the wake of this revelation is fantastic, especially as someone who’s been through (is in the throes of) a similar scenario. Julia can’t hold down her feelings for long, and this culminates in a night of passion on a beach– a cliché to end all clichés, if we’re keeping score! Waking up with Julia in his arms was just as he’d dreamed it would be: perfect. It was perfect.
Before, when Dave had dreamed about love, this is what it looked like:
It was lazy. Love was lazy as hell. Love laid around in bed, warm from the sheets and the sunlight pouring into the room. Love was too lazy to get up to close the blinds. Love was too comfortable to get up and pee. Love took too many naps, it watched TV, but not really, because it was too busy kissing and napping. Love was also funny, which somehow made the bed more comfortable, the laughter warming the sheets, softening the mattress and the lover’s skin.
But. (There’s always a but.)
It isn’t long before Dave realizes something is off. As much as he loves Julia, as perfect as this friendship-turned-relationship has turned out, he can’t escape from the fact that when he’s looking at Julia, sometimes, just sometimes, he’s thinking of Gretchen. The doubts manifest into a dark cloud that follows him around, and he has to face the truth: that his affection for Gretchen had grown into something that not even this finally-requited love from Julia could squelch. For so long, Julia had been all he wanted– and now he’s gotten it, and he wants something else.
Gretchen gets hurt along the way, of course. It was unavoidable. As someone who is currently standing in Gretchen’s shoes and hasn’t gotten her happy ending yet, I almost couldn’t bring myself to finish this book because I couldn’t bear to find out how it ended. (Seriously, there were tears.) Would Dave make the right decision? Would he follow his heart to Gretchen, and where it would be truly happy? Or would his guilt, obligation, and fear of breaking Julia’s heart make him stay with her?
Spoiler: he makes the right decision.
In a scenario like this, someone getting hurt is unavoidable. But there comes a point where you can’t worry about the other people who will be hurt: you have to decide what’s best for you. It took a lot of courage for Dave, to break off this relationship with this person he’d wanted for as long as he could remember, who’d finally given him her entire heart. How could he ever hurt her? He’d already hurt Gretchen; that wasn’t the issue. But he had to figure out where his heart truly lay, and it was with Gretchen. To stay with Julia because… that was how he’d always wanted it, or because that’s how she wanted it, or because he didn’t want to hurt her… isn’t fair to either of them.
You’d be surprised how difficult this decision is for some people. Some people never make it. They settle. They never get to live a life less ordinary, or experience the difference between great love and mediocre love.
Jump. If you take one piece of advice from me, ever, it is to jump. Take that leap.
I’ll never fault anyone for following their heart.