Author: Adi Alsaid
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Published: August 4 2015
Source: received finished copy for review
Never date your best friend
Always be original
Sometimes rules are meant to be broken
Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they'd never, ever do in high school.
Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never die your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he's broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It's either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.
Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they've actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.
It's easy to see what the appeal will be for Never Always Sometimes for a mainstream YA audience. Adi Alsaid writes with humor and charm and this brand of qurky teen coming-of-age is ever popular, thanks to the works of John Green, Rainbow Rowell plus newcomers like Alsaid here. The problem lies in the fact that due to the prevalence of stories like this, with just these kinds of characters, it takes so much more for a novel to truly standout. And while I did like Never Always Sometimes, it was a superficial enjoyment. For me, Alsaid's second novel is more predictable than it was memorable.
I like the diversity Alsaid brings to this novel. It's refreshing to have a novel with a PoC male main character, or a female character from a healthy, less conventional home situation. Including instances of racial and sexual diversity also feels like a natural extension for both characters; Julia's dads are largely off-screen for the book but nor are they tropes or caricatures. Dave's Latino heritage is never really addressed as an issue or non-issue; it's just another part of what makes him who he is. I did wish that Julia's dads had more of a presence -- both in their day-to-tay role (harassing someone the way Julia does is absolutely not okay and 100% not funny) and to illustrate how better suited for they job they were than her birth mother.
Dave is the more rounded character in Never Always Sometimes. For all that we spend the novel switching between the two POVS , Dave emerged far more defined to me. Julia reads more like a wishlist of genre tropes. She's pretty much an MPDG that tries to subvert that role... and never really quite gets there. In trying to thumb his nose at YA cliches, Adi Alsaid falls prey to several unfortunate genre staples. Julia is the first one and biggest one but the plot is sadly predictable -- from Dave's crush to Gretchen to Julia --- and renders the ending less than satisfactory.
Adi Alsaid can write good banter and create easy chemistry between his characters. I loved scenes with Dave and Julia that felt natural and not cliche, and all the scenes with Dave and Gretchen that didn't revolve around angst. Anytime the overworked romance(s) played second fiddle, Never Always Sometimes was charming and fun to read. I can't say I would reread this particular book again, but I would be curious to read whatever he writes next. If you prefer light and fluffy contemporaries, Never Always Sometimes is just in that vein of YA and will likely find a wide audience of fans.