Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: January 7th 2014 by Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic Press
“I was sixteen the second time I had my first kiss….”
At the end of AMBER HOUSE, Sarah made a choice that transformed everything–and now she must choose it all again.
Things are very different–better–for Sarah and her family: her Aunt Maggie grew up; her parents are happily married; her grandmother died after a long, productive and respected life. But other things are different too, and not for the better.
After growing up in the free country of the Pacific Northwest, Sarah Parsons has settled in at Amber House, the stately Maryland home that’s been in her family for generations. But the world surrounding the House feels deeply wrong to Sarah. It’s a place where the colonists lost the 1776 Insurrection, where the American Confederation of States still struggles with segregation, and where Sarah is haunted by echoes of a better world that she knows never existed.
Her friend Jackson shares these visions of a different world–and together, they manage both to remember the way things ought to be, and to plan a daring mission that will reset the universe once again. Sarah must figure out what has changed, and why, and how she can fix it–how she can find her way to another otherwhen.
Neverwas is the second installment in The Amber House trilogy and continues the story of Sarah Parsons and Amber House, the estate that has been in her family for years (centuries?). The previous novel in the series ends with a choice that Sarah makes, the decision that alters time and as the reader finds out, changes history.
It has been a while since I read the first novel in the trilogy and at first, I was completely baffled by the sequel. It took me a good while to situate myself in the narrative and if you, too, read the first novel some time ago, I recommend that you flip through the last few pages of The Amber House before beginning Neverwas to refamiliarize yourself with the story and its characters.
There are many things to appreciate about Neverwas First is the attention given to Sarah’s character – she’s distinct from the person she was in the first book and this hints at the dichotomy between nature and nurture. Sarah of Neverwas grows up in a different time (literally) and this is evident in the way she expresses herself and in some of the decisions she makes (and some she doesn’t make). I liked her awareness of this difference both in herself and in Richard and I liked that the love triangle has been pared. I didn’t mind his presence in Neverwas as I appreciated the complexity he throws into the narrative. It would have been so much easier for Sarah to accept his advances and let herself be carried away by everyone’s expectations where their relationship is concerned but she actually makes a choice that is consistent with who she is and that, again, threw me back to the nature/nurture conundrum.
Racial discrimination is at the forefront of the issues in this novel; the struggle for equality made dire by the fact that in the alternative history in which Sarah lives, the Nazi Germans won World War 2 and along with Japan have managed to subjugate two thirds of the world. The only power remaining unconquered is North America, part of which is sympathetic to the Nazi regime. Canada does not exist which makes sense considering London (and I’m assuming England) was burned down by its enemies but I’m Canadian so I needed to mention this, hah.
The book takes a look at the issues that would be natural to a world such as the one described but the authors do not let these issues subsume the primary narrative. The Amber House and Sarah are still at the heart of the story and it is Sarah’s growth through the narrative that is given prominence. The romance, too, is sweet but only a part of the story. Jackson is a wonderfully relatable character and his plight invites the reader’s sympathy. Sarah’s brother has a slightly lesser role in this novel but he is no less important. Sarah’s mother and Sarah continue to have issues and I’m afraid that it’s going to take a lot for her to be redeemed for me .
I enjoyed the novel immensely, especially in the second half when the tension kicks up a notch and the villainous characters show their hand. I wonder if Richard’s mother has more to her than is revealed because she has a rather sinister mien to her that is intriguingly hinted at but never really explored in much detail. I’m hoping the next installment features her a bit more prominently as it feels she has a story within her.
The only thing that I did not like was Sarah’s waffling. She runs away a lot in this novel and after the second or third time she did so, I was at my limit. And while I understood that running away from responsibilities and difficult tasks is fitting with the society she grew up in and the person she is at the moment, I felt that the action was also contradictory to the attitudes and opinions she had expressed concerning the racial discrimination. If she has a chance to make it better, why does she not take it? However, once she does decide, things pick up and come to a resounding climax that leaves me eager for and anticipating the final installment in the trilogy.