Novel: Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid | Goodreads
Release Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Never date your best friend
Always be original
Sometimes rules are meant to be broken
Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids — the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.
Some of the rules have been easy to follow; like No. 5, never die your hair a colour of the rainbow, or No. 7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule No. 8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule No. 10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.
Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.
In the interest of full transparency, I’ll admit I had ulterior motives for reading this one. I have a massive friend-crush on author Adi Alsaid (he’s so cool) and after briefly meeting him at BEA, I was curious about this one. I wasn’t expecting it to blow me away because of the mundane list-aspect of the plot, but I was expecting a pleasant read out of it. And honestly? It surpassed my expectations.
Never Always Sometimes is a remarkably well-crafted read, with realistic and daydream-worthy scenarios rolled into a hilariously detailed story. It skirts the edge of cliche (which is the point of the novel, really) which I secretly or not-so-secretly adored. I loved the scenic California backdrop, the contrived road trip scenes, the skinny-dipping/falling-for-the-best-friend packaging. It’s at once indulgent and clean, original yet familiar enough. Relaxing but never boring.
Most importantly, it’s never predictable. This is a storyline that could have veered so far off course into a boring read but it never did, because Alsaid wasn’t afraid to avoid the easy way out for some trickier scenarios. By doing that, each scene feels much more fleshed out and the relationships feel much more down-to-earth.
Julia and David were easy to connect to. They’d been best friends for years, always secretly drawn to each other, but never crossing the line. Before high school, they made this list – because they never wanted to be high school cliches. They wanted to have an authentic, strange high school experience that would be for them and not for anybody else.
But senior year rolls around and they want to try something new, the ultimate rebellion. Being the cliches they’ve shrugged off, and tackling every item on the list. Some of them are easy (dyeing hair) and some of them are insane (hook up with a teacher), and some of them are ones that they’ve silently slipped into. When they start to meet other people they’ve degraded over the years as being cliche for fitting in, they start to realize that they’ve been missing out on people who are in fact well-rounded and interesting – contrary to their elitist perspective. So they start trying to cram in as much time and as many Nevers as possible into their last few months of senior year.
I seriously loved this book. I read it in one sitting, which isn’t unusual to me, but I thought the pacing and balance were sublime. Alsaid did an excellent job of dealing with romance, dealing with perceptions, and adding dashes of cliche high school experiences that made me positively giddy to read about.
I think much of its success is attributed to the perspective – it’s told in third-person past tense, to which I normally struggle to connect. Usually, I don’t connect as well to narrators. In this, I actually found David and Julia to be memorable, something that doesn’t come easily to me. For this story, I think first-person would have actually detracted from the details. I wasn’t expecting David’s voice to switch into Julia’s, which took me a bit by surprise because it happened later in the book, but I was okay with it.
David was likable and well-grounded. He was devoted to Julia, but never in a way that took anything away from his development. He was kind, but made mistakes. He was funny but not overpowering. He was the type of quieter guy I would love to be friends with, and his narration was spot-on wonderful.
Julia was a bit crazier but still lovable. She could be irrational – not Manic Pixie Dream Girl though, which I appreciated – but instead, just had this instinctual pull to surprise people. That ingrained confidence was a valuable part of her character and helped to set up other aspects of her psyche – like jealousy, when David started deciding things on his own.
The supporting characters were great too! This book is pretty heavy on the main characters – not many subplots – but it doesn’t feel too straightforward. The few other characters that there were contributed a few one-liners, some conflict, an immediate persona that made them feel more realistic. I loved Gretchen, the girl David starts to have feelings for, and her role in the story.
It’s observant and sharp, with the sensory imagery that fully transported me into the story (and made me think that some of these scenarios must be relatively familiar to the author.) It was so realistic and wild, all at once.
With that being said, it also kept me laughing throughout. It’s hilarious. It’s not immediately bawdy or laugh-out-loud uproarious but instead, it has this wry undercurrent. Sarcasm is a default for both characters, but never in a way that’s overly negative. It’s clever. One of the characters actually chats about her inability to keep a straight face while saying her jokes, and so they feel fumbling, and impactful, and much like banter with my friends that would keep me laughing. And scenes like the slam poetry that just dish out these brilliant, brilliant moments kept me riveted because of the humor. (I’m serious – I wish I knew people as funny as the characters in Never Always Sometimes.) That was probably the number one selling point for me when it came to this book.
I finished the book with an unfamiliar sense of satisfaction. Very rarely does a book feel like the full package to me – like it had just enough focus and detour, just enough cliche and originality to stick with a general theme. Never Always Sometimes was exactly what I wanted it to be, and kept me surprised in a way that still felt organic to the characters. It’s a solid, good read, and one that I’ll keep in mind for future recommendations.