This book did one thing very effectively: it distracted me from the inside of my own head after a seriously crappy day that started with the election of Donald Trump and ended with the news that someone I know online had killed herself that morning. (As usual, there’s a delay between me reading the book and actually posting the review here, this time of around a month.)
Seeking a distraction from my emotions and subsequent inability to sleep, I resorted to reading this at some ridiculous time in the early hours, and it did what I needed it to do, which I appreciated.
I believe the concept of this book may have taken inspiration from a series of Tumblr posts revolving around soulmate AUs, one of the notable ones being that people see in black and white until they meet their soulmate and then can see colour. (Another I remember seeing during this trend — which was a couple of years ago now — include being born with a tattoo of the first thing your soulmate says to you.) The best of these posts always took these concepts a step further and interrogated exactly what was meant by a soulmate, and whether it was always romantic, and whether people would form relationships outside of these pairings, and so on.
This book sticks mostly to the typical romantic soulmate type, though secondary characters have different experiences, but it does explore these other ideas, as well as issues like abuse and how a system of this sort could affect those circumstances. The story is quite heteronormative, because while not all soulmates featured are romantic, all the romantic pairings references are straight. That was a shame — it might have been nice to have that element of it, and explore how that would colour (no pun intended!) someone’s experience of their identity.
The themes of abuse and families meant this had more depth than the overused YA trope of “straight people can’t be together because their love is ~forbidden~”, which I appreciated. It actually subverted quite a lot of tropes: Libby’s parents are active and supportive players in her life, and I particularly liked her loving relationship with her dad. There are a few things that border on clichéd, and sometimes the book was a little bit too self aware at those moments, with Libby commenting on how she previously thought this only happened in romance novels. However, these were pretty minor points.
My main issue would be that occasionally the narrative felt like it skipped around. I said “felt like” because as I mentioned at the start of this review, I wasn’t in a good headspace at the time, and I read this book at 4am. It’s entirely possible that my confusion here and there was due to lapses in concentration, and not because the narrative had actually skipped ahead in time or deviated from the main purpose of a scene in a way that was hard to follow. Whenever I read a book under these circumstances, I feel I need to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Likewise, I occasionally found that I was caught out by the use of present tense, even though as far as I could figure out that was consistent throughout the book and it was a case of me forgetting between one page and the next. Not sure what was happening there, and while it’s not impossible that there was some weirdness about the writing style, it seems more likely that it was me that was the issue.
Had I not been familiar with the concept of the book from Tumblr, I would have thought it was super original. As it was, I remember seeing a number of bits of flash fiction and so on based on the various “soulmate AU” scenarios (… and I’m fairly sure I read a few Les Mis fanfics that used it too, because it was that period of my life). Without an author’s note to mention it I don’t know if the author was the original poster of that idea, or whether they were just inspired by it, but I think they did a pretty good job of synthesising the creativity of the idea with the various critiques and queries people raised about how it would actually work.
It wasn’t all that easy to be objective or even specific in this review: while I found the book a helpful distraction and got invested in certain aspects, I wasn’t absolutely delighted, but then, on a day that crappy, would anything have made me genuinely happy? I think there were also some stylistic elements I wasn’t so keen on, but they were minor.
On the whole, this was engaging enough to drag me out of an emotional pit, hopefully enough that shortly before 6am, I was able to get a little bit of sleep. And that’s all I can really ask of a book.