The Next Together
By Lauren James
Hardcover, 356 pages
2017, Sky Pony Press
Thank you to Sky Pony Press for sending me this book for free in exchange for my honest review.
Katherine and Matthew find themselves drawn together, unexpectedly in sync with each other…each and every time they meet. Across history, they’ve been born over and over, always meeting, always falling in love, always doomed. Now it’s the year 2039 and they’ve met once more. As vague memories begin to resurface, the two try to figure out what’s been happening to themselves across the centuries.
This is a hard book to blurb, because there’s a lot going on. I’m feeling a rant coming on, so if you’re looking for the short version: I enjoyed the concept of K&M’s constant reincarnations and their connections across time. There’s a dash of sci-fi thrown in that had me intrigued, but ultimately wanting more. I think the details were lacking and the characters were so similarly boring that I didn’t care for any iteration of the couple. The ending was especially disappointing and if a sequel exists, I won’t read on.
Ok, if you’re still with me, buckle up for a bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff involving bland teenagers who are apparently destined to be each other’s true loves! This book gave me thoughts.
Let’s start with the basics. The story follows 3 main iterations of K&M and hints at the details of another set through found documents like hand-written notes and journal entries. That couple is the least developed because they are really only seen through the eyes of the most recent versions of K&M.
So we’ve got:
1745 Katherine and Matthew living in Carlisle, England. Katherine is rich and Matthew is her aunt’s coachman or something. Meh.
1854 Katy and Matt traveling from England to Crimea for the war. Katy is (easily) masquerading as a boy, Kit, and Matt is the first war correspondent.
2019 Katherine and Matthew living somewhere in England. They’re a pair of married scientists and they’re dead, so we only get to read the stupid notes they left each other.
2039 Kate and Matt (or maybe she goes by Katherine? Who cares?) who also live somewhere in England. They’re university students together, studying science. They also happen to be the niece and nephew, respectively, of the deceased K&M and they each look almost exactly like their aunt and uncle. Because that’s not freaky at all. Really, it’s hardly mentioned and no one finds it alarming.
These aren’t even all their iterations, just the ones we’re following in the story. Still with me?
I’ll give you another quick hit, in case you want to bail before I further dissect things. I didn’t find any of the couples endearing, charming, relatable or interesting. I think they were all pretty interchangeable – which you could argue makes sense because they’re the same people reincarnated, but even their settings had little impact on them so they felt too similar and I was bored. I did visually enjoy the graphic elements like the notes and emails, but the content was also boring. The ending was frustrating and vague and the sci-fi twist left me a bit confused. I don’t think the sci-fi elements or the character development were pushed far enough.
Let’s talk a little about the couple I liked the least, Kit and Matt in the 1854 timeline. Kit has been living as a boy in some general’s household for a few years or something. She gets caught reading a book when she’s supposed to be cleaning and the general decides to send her to be Matt’s assistant, because the higher-ups are worried his front-line correspondence will paint them in a bad light or give information that could be used against him. Her job is to spy on him and influence what he publishes.
If it was so critical that Matt’s correspondence is censored, why wouldn’t the military send a professional spy to act as his personal assistant? Why would General What’s-His-Face send a serving boy he really knows nothing about, just because the kid can read?!
On top of that, Kit has had zero issues passing for a boy for the entire time she’s done it. But, lest we forget she’s a pretty girl, we get this from her: “Katy knew that her features were quite feminine, but with cropped hair and male clothing she hoped she would easily pass for an undernourished fourteen-year-old boy, instead of a girl of sixteen years.”
So that’s good – she gets to be “quite feminine” but no one suspects that she’s not a boy. Right. Her secret is revealed to Matt, of course, but basically, because she tells him. This doesn’t matter though, because he essentially ignores her for a short time, then they’re good. In fact, they’re so good that once they reach camp, they fight over who will sleep on the one cot and who on the floor, so Kit suggests they share the cot. Wow. I know she’s supposed to be bold and all, but I feel like in the 1850s that would be shocking. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure it’s not wide enough for two.
She remains in boy gear while they’re corresponding and of course, quickly throws her spy agenda out the window so she can caress Matt’s hair and drink his coffee and generally canoodle him. I know they’ve got that magical bond because they’ve been reincarnated so long, but I expected a little more tension. Also, I don’t need a ton of detail, but I bet it would be a real pain in the ass to deal with your period when you’re living in a military camp masquerading as a boy. A comment on that might have made things feel a touch more believable.
Really, any struggle would have added some depth to their situation and surroundings. Aside from being cold and tired, the two suffered very few hardships in their time at the front. Kit magically has no problems getting food and taking care of Matt, her “delicate flower.” I guess that’s supposed to be a funny term of endearment she uses for him.
Periodically, I came across some awkward descriptions that pulled me out of the story because I was like, “what???”
“She could barely feel the extremities of her body from exhaustion and bitter cold.” Well yes, I’m not sure what other extremities she has…would they be someone else’s extremities that she could barely feel?
“She sighed into his mouth, shivering.” That just sounds awkward and sort of gross.
“She hadn’t had the butterflies in the stomach, the giddy absorption of falling in love.” Props for using a phrase I’ve never encountered before – giddy absorption of falling in love. It’s so unique that I really can’t comprehend it.
The sci-fi tidbits and the overall idea were what propelled me through this book. The payoff wasn’t there for me though. I wish the characters and their settings had been more developed. There weren’t enough details to really build up each world, and maybe cutting out one of the couples could have left room for the further development of the others. Or maybe this is just YA, letting me down once again. I mean, the premise is based on two teens falling in love over and over, so I’m not sure what I was expecting. Alas. Not terribly written, despite some awkward details here and there, but just not a story that held my interest.