Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole
Published by Flux on 08-11-2013
Genres: Bullying, General, Social Issues, Young Adult
Cassandra fears rocking the family boat. Instead, she sinks it. Assigned by her English teacher to write a poem that reveals her true self, Cassandra Randall is stuck. Her family's religion is so overbearing, she can NEVER write about who she truly is. So Cass does what any self-respecting high school girl would do: she secretly begins writing a tarot-inspired advice blog. When Drew Godfrey, an awkward outcast with unwashed hair, writes to her, the situation spirals into what the school calls "a cyberbullying crisis" and what the church calls "sorcery." Cass wants to be the kind of person who sticks up for the persecuted, who protects the victims the way she tries to protect her brother from the homophobes in her church. But what if she's just another bully? What will it take for her to step up and tell the truth?
Cass Randall doesn’t know who she is, or where she fits in and she is absolutely baffled by an assignment in which she has to write poem celebrating her true self.
I found it really hard to write a review about Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always because I had some quite strong, personal opinions about it. I felt like it had great potential, and the blurb sounded amazing, but unfortunately the execution just didn’t work for me.
Firstly, Cass is not particularly like-able. The author herself has talked about that, and how that’s okay, because she hopes that Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always is a story of redemption. (And also because at the end of the day, sometimes we aren’t particularly likeable, especially at seventeen). I get that logic, I really do. I think about myself as a teenager, and I’d like to think I’ve come a long way from there, because it’s true that teenagers sometimes make stupid choices but eventually (we hope) they grow up. Unfortunately, while I understood the logic, Cass’ growth in Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always didn’t work for me, perhaps because I felt like she got further away from herself as the story went on. It felt like we started with a quietly rebellious teenager, who grew increasingly easy to dislike, before she had a (somewhat sudden) change of heart. While I can see what Hoole was trying to do in terms of Cass’ character growth, and why, it just didn’t work for me.
The plot for Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always was so interesting. You knew it couldn’t possibly end well, and yet I still loved reading about Cass’ rebellion away from her family with the Tarot cards, the increasing popularity of her blog, and the anonymous comments that grow increasingly mean.
I really liked the format of the novel. The first thing that sets off Cass’ identity crisis is when she tries to fill in one of those quizzes (you know, like you had on myspace a few years ago!). She can’t really think of anything that’s hers – everyone and everything she likes, is someone else’s ‘thing’. She likes the music her friends like, rather than the music she likes; she doesn’t even really know what it is that she likes. Each chapter of the book starts with one of the questions from that survey, which is a really nice touch, because it lets you see what it was that Cass couldn’t figure out about herself, in a natural feeling way.
Thinking about that survey, I think I may have identified why I couldn’t connect with Cass. Obviously, one of the reasons was as I’ve outlined above, that she becomes less likeable as the story goes on; more bitchy, more like a bully, etc. I think another part of the problem though, may be that she’s sort of an anti-geek – because she doesn’t know what she likes, she isn’t really excited or enthusiastic about anything. As a very definite geek, I found it hard to connect with Cass, because I don’t see how anyone (geek or otherwise) could have no passions at all; for books, music, films, games, animals, anything!
As the book goes on it becomes clear that the one thing Cass is devoted to is her brother, and I loved seeing the two of them interact. Cass’ love for her brother is her most redeeming quality and once we start seeing that passion it became slightly easier to connect with her. She worries for him and desperately tries to protect him, even when it becomes clear that Eric wants to stand up and face his problems. Whilst I didn’t necessarily feel like Cass’ personal growth was gradual enough, Cass and Eric’s relationship grows in a lovely believable way throughout the story.
I much preferred the supporting characters in Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always. Cass’ brother Eric, her English teacher, her crush, her best friend and even Drew, the girl who’s so mercilessly cyber-bullied, are much more likeable than Cass, and I really enjoyed reading about them.
While I enjoyed the plot there are so many issues tackled in this book it began to feel cluttered. Throughout the course of the book we have the religious family and the cyber-bullying mentioned in the blurb, but we also have homophobia and a suicide attempt. I feel like tackling a lot of issues is really tricky to get done right, and in this case I feel like it would have been better with a few less issues.
Buy it? This is a library borrow for me, but it wouldn’t be top of my request list.
In a nutshell: This was an okay read, but ultimately didn’t live up to my hopes.
Other Reviews of Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always: Much Loved Books | Alexa Loves Books | Dandelion Dreams