Then and Always by Dani Atkins

By Ekta R. Garg

May 28, 2014

Rated: Bookmark it!

A college student experiences a horrific accident and spends the next five years dealing with its effects. When she goes back to her hometown for a visit, she gets knocked unconscious. After waking up in the hospital, things suddenly stop making sense and the young woman must figure out why no one understands her point of view anymore. British author Dani Atkins offers Then and Always, a debut that may begin a little slowly but will astound readers by its stunning end.

Rachel Wiltshire and her boyfriend, Matt, have planned a get-together with their friends, one last hurrah before they all leave for college. They go to a favorite restaurant to celebrate their impending independence, but Rachel knows they’ll stay in touch. Sarah, her best friend, will always be there to deflect catty comments by Cathy, who has her eye on Matt, and Jimmy will always be Mr. Chivalrous and Rachel’s confidante.

In the middle of their evening, a freak accident puts Rachel square in the sights of an oncoming car. Unable to move, she only has time to think about how much she would have loved to have pursued her passion of journalism when Jimmy saves her life. The accident leaves Rachel with physical and emotional scars that run deep and appear for all to see.

Five years later Rachel, living alone in London, faces the reality that her life has veered wildly off course. She managed to leave the small town, but that’s the only plan that has come to fruition. Living over a Laundromat and working at a dead-end desk job doesn’t exactly qualify as fulfillment of her talent. When Sarah calls to say she’s getting married and could Rachel please come home for the wedding, Rachel knows she doesn’t have enough momentum to refuse. She may have spurned her past, but she can’t turn down her best friend.

She goes home and forces herself to focus on Sarah. Before she can attend the wedding, however, Rachel suffers a fall. When she wakes up, she finds herself in the hospital.

That’s the last familiar thing she can recount. Her scars from the accident have mysteriously disappeared, and everything else about her life has changed drastically. The desk job has transformed into a budding career as a magazine writer, and she’s engaged to Matt. In fact the accident from five years earlier no longer acts as a bookend to the good part of her life; instead it’s just another small piece of her amazing life story.

But how can this be? Before Rachel came home she had none of these things. Now every time she tries to explain to her loved ones about the differences in her life before the fall and after, they look at her with puzzled expressions. Eventually she goes to Jimmy and asks for his help to retrace her steps from her life in London to the trip she made back to town for Sarah’s wedding. The result, however, will leave even Rachel in the dark.

Author Dani Atkins will keep readers engaged all the way to the end, and the ending of the book will challenge anyone’s ability to guess its outcome. No one will get it before they reach the conclusion, but once they reach that conclusion they won’t be able to forget it for days afterward. While the story takes a few pages to gain momentum, once Atkins gets the pace going she keeps it steady.

At times Atkins highlights the romantic elements of her story and readers may wonder why, but once the book ends everything will fall into place. Rachel’s struggles, Jimmy’s unending loyalty, and even the book’s title all come together in a haunting finish. Make no mistake: this one will give something readers to think about long after they’ve finished it.

I highly recommend Then and Always for anyone who enjoys old-fashioned love stories or a book that will surprise you in the best, most heartbreaking way possible.

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