Wednesday 10 May 2023

If Tomorrow Doesn't Come, Jen St. Jude

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This post is part of the WriteReads blog tour for the novel. Thank you to The WriteReads and Penguin for providing me with a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s Avery Byrne’s nineteenth birthday, and she is not intending to survive it. Her plans are disrupted when she receives a call from her best friend Cass telling her an asteroid is headed to Earth and they all only have nine days left to live. She soon finds herself battling to get to Cass and get them both back home in Kilkenny, her roommate Aisha and lecturer Dr. Talley in tow. Their presence acts as a point of anxiety for Avery as they both know dark secrets that she desperately wants to hide from her family.

The narrative bounces between the countdown to the end of the world and the history of Avery, revealing her challenges with her sexuality, strictly religious parents, mental health, and keeping up with her classes and sport. In high school she had been a star on the soccer team and a straight A student, but when she arrives at Eaton she struggles to thrive while her mental health makes her very existence unbearable. Her struggles with depression are painfully realistic and it’s heartbreaking to see how little of her light she sees. Convinced her loved ones would be better off without her, and certain there will come a time when she is no longer around, she keeps herself from getting too close to her nephew, not wanting him to become attached to her. The day Avery was born her aunt Devin killed herself, and she sees it almost as an inevitability that she will do the same. She has been told how much she looks like Devin which only reinforces the idea that they have a connection, a shared destiny.

The thought of being stuck in a bunker with her family fills her with dread because she isn’t sure she’d be able to keep the carefully constructed mask in place, that they’d see her completely. Can the last few days before the collision make her want to keep living, make her feel worth the affection of those around her?

If there’s one person who can help her turn things around, it’s Cass. They have been best friends for years but Avery’s secret feelings for her add tension. The last time she saw Cass she told her she hated her, but when it comes to it, there’s nobody either of them would rather be with. Cass has been openly gay for years, she is vibrant, beautiful, and fun, and Avery feels herself pale beside her. You root for them to be together but the flashbacks show how often they’ve miscommunicated their feelings and hurt each other. This isn’t an idealised relationship, it’s very relatable and it has the potential to help Avery feel at home in the world.

The apocalyptic world they are living in is intense. Cities are dangerous, planes are grounded, and suburbs are abandoned. Her brother and sister-in-law, neighbours to her parents, fall apart under the pressure of trying to protect their son from the reality of what is happening. An apocalypse party brings Avery and Cass face-to-face with a spurned classmate who is looking for revenge, and all the normal rules that guide life are broken in this terrifying new world.

This is a deeply emotional read. It is written absorbingly and the characters all feel believable. The emotions and challenges of first love will be relatable both to those reading in the throes of adolescence and those reading with the advantage of age. A compelling read, and one that you might want to keep a box of tissues to hand for. 

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