ARC Review: Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole

Pub. Date: November 8th, 2013
Publisher: Flux
Paperback
360 pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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?
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Within the first twenty pages of the novel, Cassandra says, (and I’m going to paraphrase because I don’t know whether words or page numbers changed during final edits) she’s ‘going to find herself, even if the cliché of doing so kills her’. Unfortunately, while I didn’t find the action clichéd, I did find the attempt clichéd. Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always is really the story about a girl who doesn’t know how to stand up for herself and her beliefs. She knows who she is. She knows what she believes. She’s just afraid of vocalizing those things. I wish that I could say I connected with Cassandra’s story, but while reading I found myself wishing she would just own up to what she thinks and feels, and stop acting like jerk to everyone, because I was sure ready to move the story along.  

The main thing that hindered my ability to connect with the story (my issues with Cassandra’s immaturity, and the overwhelming focus on religion aside) was the imbalance between how many story elements are going on, and how slowly the story is actually told. So many topics are covered from first dates, to religion questions, bullying, friend issues, and LGBTQ intolerance, that I wondered when the kitchen sink was going to be thrown into the mix as well. The extraordinarily frustrating part of reading was not how many story elements we’re asked to connect with as readers, but how epically slow the advancement of the story was. It’s one thing when you feel like your head is spinning because there so much is happening in the story. It’s another thing when there are numerous story elements, yet you never really feel as though anything of real significance is actually happening. I read my way through all 300+ pages hoping for some kind of spike in the action or a major emotional resolution, but near the end, I had to resign myself to the fact that I would never get a reprieve from what I found to be a too slowly pace, over storied, and emotionally flat structure.  

Overall I think that there was a lot of promise in the premise, and the questions asked of readers about what they believe and how they act were valid. But, for readers to invest emotionally, the story needed a lot more focus, and the pacing needed to move beyond leisurely at some point. I’m sure there are readers out there who will absolutely love and adore Cassandra’s story. I was clearly not one of them.

Rating 2/5

** I received a copy of the novel from the publisher to read and honestly review. I was in no way compensated.