Hey y’all! It feels like I’ve been reading this one forever, because I have. It’s one of those books you really have to take your time with (or else you won’t be able to read through the tears) but I was determined to finish it yesterday, and so that’s what I did. Now, let’s get into it.
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?
Trigger Warnings: death of parents, death of close friend, trauma, car accident, grief
Representation: Black MC and mostly Black supporting cast, Latino side character
One of the things that stood out to me immediately was the structure. The chapters are numbered, but they go backward from 100, so the first chapter is 100, second is 99, and so on. It’s an unconventional style and one I really enjoy because it sets up a sense of urgency. A lot of the chapters were also really short, many were only a single page and that definitely conveyed a strong message.
In Opposite of Always, I started to see how Justin A. Reynolds could take some common YA tropes and approach them in a different light. In Early Departures, he’s really honed that in and figured out how to use these tropes in innovative ways. He even goes so far as to call them out and acknowledge their ridiculousness. It’s pretty hard to put into words but when you read it, it really hits you. Like has you doing a double take and putting the book down for a second to giggle, kind of hits you.
Another unconventional thing in the story is the way that Jamal breaks the fourth wall pretty regularly in Early Departures. There are points where it almost feels like the story is written in second person, a perspective that is really hard to write in but is done so masterfully here. Justin A. Reynolds used this technique pretty lightly in Opposite of Always, but you can really see how he’s made it his own here.
The characters were so real, so tangible. I felt a strong connection to them all pretty early on. I can’t remember the first time I cried while reading Early Departures, but I’m almost certain it was within the first 60 pages.
If you’ve been following this blog for a few months, you know that I took a Science Fiction class this past Spring and that opened me up a lot more to the genre. Early Departures made me realize that I would love to read more modern Science Fiction stories by Black authors, especially ones like this that include much of the real world with a Sci-Fi twist. It reminds me a lot of Kindred by Octavia Butler, which I read for a whole other class but absolutely loved.
Something I especially loved about Early Departures is the fact that the plot doesn’t center around the main character’s Blackness, or struggles that result from it. There isn’t any police brutality, there aren’t even microaggressions. It’s a story about grief and friendship and being there for those you care about. It’s a story about healing and moving forward. It’s a story for everyone who has lost someone, whether through death or experience.
The Not so Good
If you don’t like to cry and don’t like emotional books, this may not be the book for you. It also depends on your headspace and whether this is a story you’re ready for. There is a really nice mix of humor to balance out the heaviness, but this is still a story of grief so keep that in mind when you’re starting Early Departures.
All in All
It’s no secret that Early Departures was one of my most anticipated reads for September (and the year) but Justin A. Reynolds really blew it out of the water with this one. This is the kind of book that I truly think everyone should read, especially if you’ve lost someone close to you. Early Departures would be especially perfect for fans of The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds.
All this to say: Please go pick up this book, I’m begging you. I probably won’t shut up about it for a while so you might as well get it so you can stay in the loop, too.
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