*I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*
This book. Was. FANTASTIC. I didn’t mean to read it all in one night, but that’s what ended up happening, exhaustion be damned. It was one those books that, from the very first page, I loved and just knew was going to blow me away. It had such an interesting premise, the mood was bleak and dark, the writing was not fanciful yet somehow still beautiful, the characters were imperfect and suffering, there was even disability! And those were my thoughts after just ten percent, though I’m happy to say the book continued to affect me just as strongly all the way to the end.
But I do want to talk more in depth about all those things, so I’ll start with the premise. There was a fire one night, and that was when everything changed. Kyle doesn’t even know if it was his fault since he can’t remember what actually happened. But since then, Kyle has been stuck alternating between two realities. In one, his boyfriend Danny is still alive as a paraplegic, but their friend Shira is dead. In the other, Shira is alive, but Danny is dead and Kyle is badly burned and scarred all over much of his face and body. There are other differences too, but those are the most important ones. So in each reality, someone is being grieved, but Kyle can’t move on from either death because both Danny and Shira are still alive to him, just in different realities. That alone makes for an amazing story if you’re a masochistic reader like me since it’s rife with all sorts of emotion.
Then there was the mood of the book. Not only was it bleak and dark, it was also intense, haunting, atmospheric, mysterious, suspenseful, unsettling, twisted, heavy… Basically any sort of dark synonym you can think of, it applies. It’s one of the darkest books I’ve ever read, despite the fact that it’s YA. It also included a lot of serious topics, like *POSSIBLE SPOILER + TRIGGER WARNING* LGBT struggles, family struggles, disability, grief/loss, abuse, possible mental illness, self harm, and attempted suicide. *END SPOILER*
And that writing style that I mentioned? It worked so perfectly to convey the dark mood. It’s hard to explain since it wasn’t all flowery or metaphorical, but it was still beautiful, and I loved it.
Then you had Kyle himself. Considering all those trigger warnings I mentioned, you can probably guess that he was suffering and unhappy in every version of reality (what with his guilt, grief, confusion, fear, anger, etc.) and the shifting back and forth thing was killing him, both literally and figuratively. In some ways, he shouldn’t have been a sympathetic character—he could be very selfish and impulsive—but I found myself sympathizing with him regardless. I felt terrible for him and was rooting for him to succeed at fixing things. Maybe it was because of how realistic and developed he was. He was also obsessed with fire, like in a legit pyromania way (even though the word was never used), and that was an interesting thing to read about.
All the characters seemed like real people though—some good, some bad, some imperfect but trying, some not trying at all. It made for a lot of gray area and some thought-provoking aspects.
And last but not least on my list, there was the disability. In one reality, Kyle was scarred from his burns, and the author did what seemed like a good job of including the ways it affected him, the ways people reacted, the ways he felt about it, a lot of things that I wouldn’t have thought or known as someone who’s never experienced that. In the other reality, Danny was paraplegic and wheelchair-bound. There wasn’t too much exploration of that since Danny wasn’t a POV character, but we still got to see a small bit of the struggles from Kyle’s perspective.
One more thing, this book was definitely a mindfuck, but one with a plot that actually made sense. It could’ve gone into total confusing nonsense territory, but it didn’t. It was a little confusing trying to remember the details for each reality, but that was just because of my memory, not because of the writing. Everything was plenty clear and mostly consistent, and I never noticed any plot holes. My only issue would have to be that the ending was one of those open-to-interpretation ones (unless I just didn’t quite understand it). But the explanation given near the end was what made the most sense and fit with everything else in the story, so I’m going with that. *SPOILER* But wow, what a twist! Some may not like it, and I’ll admit it wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it’s one I could accept. Sorry if you were expecting more of a spoiler than that, but I really don’t want to ruin it. *END SPOILER*
So overall, this book was dark and intense and amazing with wonderful writing and realistic characters, and I just loved it!
Anyone who likes dark, intense, unsettling, mysterious, heavy, mindfuck (but not the confusing kind) books and seriously flawed and gray characters.