3 reasons Ann Aguirre’s Like Never and Always is perfectly imperfect summer fare


Ann Aguirre’s Like Never and Always isn’t perfect. But it’s a dark, entertaining thriller that’s a natural choice for your summer beach bag.

Summer means lots of time for books. Beach time, pool time, just lazing around on the couch time — it all offers the perfect opportunity for an escapist read. Ann Aguirre’s new YA thriller Like Never and Always is perfect for your summer beach or pool bag and screams to be read in just a sitting or two. (Preferably while working on your tan.)

This doesn’t mean Like Never and Always is perfect, however. The story isn’t quite sure what it wants to be in several places, rocketing between a murder mystery and a romance novel, with some strange science fiction bits thrown in. As a reader, there are a couple spots where you’re going to have to work pretty hard to suspend your disbelief. (For example: There are ghosts? Maybe? No one remarks upon some pretty big changes in Morgan’s character?)

But if you can get through or otherwise ignore the handful of rough patches, this novel is really a lot of fun. Here’s why.

The intriguingly out-there premise

After a fatal car crash, Liv awakens in the body of her best friend Morgan. Not only must she reckon with the fact that everyone believes she is dead, she must adjust to life as rich girl with a whole lot of secrets. There’s a lot going on here — the body switch plot in and of itself would be enough to drive most novels. But Like Never and Always adds a twist to this standard trope by making it about something more than a body swap. Liv-as-Morgan finds herself uncovering many secrets about her former BFF. These include her inner darkness, her loneliness, and her concerns about the truth behind her mother’s death.

That’s a lot to unpack in a 300-page YA thriller. But for the most part, this novel acquits itself well on all fronts. Oddly enough, though, Like Never and Always never really bothers to explain how Liv and Morgan switch bodies. Sure, Liv-as-Morgan mumbles some science-fueled exposition. Something that may or may not be ghost Morgan hints at a different reason. But no one ever gives a definitive answer. This isn’t a heavy book, so it’s not going to ask you to ponder questions of identity, self and the afterlife too heavily. But they’re there, and that’s pleasantly unexpected in a novel like this.

The multiple twists

Thanks to Morgan’s surprisingly dark past, Liv must adjust to more than she bargained for upon taking over her life. She has to survive high school classes she’s never taken. She needs to navigate her BFF’s romantic relationship — with the brother of the boy she herself dated. And she has to solve several hidden Frost family mysteries along the way.

The breakneck pacing means that new revelations are being thrown into the mix every chapter or so. We learn Morgan keeping a lot of dark secrets from her BFF — everything from secret boyfriends to personal betrayals. But she was something of an amateur sleuth at the same time, because she was also investigating the potentially shady circumstances surrounding her mother’s death 10 years earlier, as it turns out.

This quest took her to some pretty dangerous places — and involved her with a much older, seriously creepy guy with secrets of his own. Liv must step in where her friend left off, figure out the truth, and keep herself safe, all without letting anyone know that she’s not Morgan. But it’s important: It may or may not be the only way her friend can ever rest.

The honest, realistic characters

Despite the fact that this is a story about an unimaginable situation, Like Never and Always features a group of surprisingly true-to-life teens. Liv and Morgan’s friendship is realistically presented, as is their experience as high school teens. (The school body’s reaction to everything from Morgan’s outfits to dating life is perfectly on point.) Liv’s relationships with the two brothers the girls were dating — her boyfriend Nathan and Morgan’s bad boy Clay — are deliciously complicated. And her attempt to make a life for herself within the confines of still having to live as Morgan is both moving and surprisingly honest.

There’s only one real negative here. We spend so much time in Morgan’s life, but it doesn’t feel like we ever really get to know her. This makes sense, in a way. She’s gone, and even though her spirit lingers, we don’t really have a way to interact with her as she once was. There’s enough here to feel sympathetic toward a girl who was clearly lost and lonely, but there are plenty of questions about her character we just never really get answers to. (Some clarifications around her original relationship with Jack or why she had to go quite as far as it did might have gone a long way is all I’m saying.)

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Like Never and Always is available anywhere books are sold.