Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole

Cover art for Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole
Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole, pub. November 2013, 349 pg.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I read YA books that primarily take place at a high school, I’m usually a little disappointed. Many of them just aren’t realistic, and my biggest issue is when the author just glosses over all of the problems so many high school students face. Luckily, I was happily surprised when Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole turned out to be one of the most realistic depictions of a high school setting that I’ve ever read.  
Cass Randall is pretty sure she is the most boring person alive. All of her friends have filled out an online survey, and each one seems to have more interesting stories than the last. Cass, however, comes from a fundamentalist Christian family and, besides struggling to figure out what her own beliefs are and keeping her brother’s secret sexual orientation a secret, she thinks she might be the least-exciting person in existence. On a quest to make herself more interesting and simultaneously figure out who she is, Cass has to decide if popularity, notoriety, or her friends and family are most important. 
One of my favorite things about this book is that it isn’t perfectly smooth or flawless. Cass faces challenges everywhere she turns. She’s not sure she believes in God even though her family is devoutly religious. She wants to be popular and well-known at school, but she’s also the only friend of her school’s least-popular girl. When her brother is bullied for being gay, she wants to stand up for him, but she isn’t sure how to because her parents don’t know.
Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always is a very realistic representation of what it’s like to be in high school. Kids struggle to maintain friendships and build new connections and figure out who they are. It’s hard to know what you want when you’re constantly being pressures by peers and parents, and that is exactly what this book shows. 
Cass battles throughout the book with wanting to do the right thing, but also wanting to maintain her reputation and appearance at school. Common challenges like friendship problems, cyberbullying, religion, sexual orientation, and popularity are threaded throughout the book, and each one is examined through the Cass’s eyes as she struggles to balance what she knows is right with what she wants for herself. 
The framing of this story was really clever. Each chapter title is a different question from the survey Cass is struggling to complete. It reminded me a lot of the many, many MySpace surveys my friends and I would fill out in junior high school. The questions posed at the beginning of each chapter often foreshadowed events or realizations Cass would have in the following pages.
There is a subtle little love story threaded throughout the book as well. I really enjoyed that this wasn’t one of the many YA books that focus primarily on the romantic relationships of the main character. Instead, the love story aspect played second fiddle to the more serious issues high school students face (and was still completely adorable at the same time). 
I think Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always teaches some really crucial lessons about the importance of accepting those who are different, treating people how they deserve to be treated and how every action has a consequence. I’d definitely suggest it to anyone who has endured the high school experience – everyone can relate to it.

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