Picture this: it’s New Year’s Day after a very fun, but super busy, Holiday week. I, finally, have a chance to sit down and read (pretty much what I’ve wanted to do all break) and this book is due back at the library soon. So, I make some coffee, grab a small reading snack (of course), and settle down in my reading chair with a blanket and my heat beam pointed right at me. A few hours later, I have finished this book in one sitting. Yup, that’s right, cover to cover IN ONE SITTING. This was, quite literally, unputdownable.
Jason Dessen is a pretty normal guy: married with a kid, teaching physics at a local university. Generally, he’s happy with his life and things are pretty good, but there is, of course, always that “what if” voice – specifically, what if he hadn’t decided to stay with Daniela when they got unexpectedly pregnant with Charlie 15 years ago and had instead continued his research in quantum mechanics? This book is all about that what if. Jason actually gets to find out, to live, his what if. But it’s not really what he was expecting and things get really out of hand.
This insane thriller/sci-fi genre mash-up is an absolutely exhilarating read. The Jason we meet at the beginning is kidnapped, drugged, and wakes up in an alternate reality where his wife is not his wife, his son was never born, and he’s a super famous scientist. Essentially, he wakes up in his what if world. But the thing is, he’s having a hard time telling which world is real…were his wife and son real and this world the dream, or were they just a hallucination and this world is true reality? In this incredibly fast paced and gripping adventure, Jason sets out to discover the truth, embarking on what becomes a harrowing journey through multiple realities and versions of his life to find his way back to his true wife and son.
This is a fascinating premise for a story, because that “what if” feeling is something we’ve all experienced, no matter how happy we are. It’s so hard not to imagine that the grass is greener on the other side. And the way it’s written makes it such an absorbing read – addressing the best and worst possibilities of those “what ifs” and doing so from a “realistic” (read: based in science, not magic) perspective, that is not too over-the-top or technical for those of us of a non-scientific background. (Bearing in mind, as a result of that, I cannot actually speak to how the theory in this book stands up to real scientific scrutiny, but it was convincing enough for me…and as sci-fi you know it’ll require a little suspension of disbelief anyways, so be prepared for that.) It raises some philosophical questions about what makes a person who they are, how well they truly know the people they love, and how far they are willing to go to get or protect what they have/want. I was definitely left with some serious thoughts to work through towards the end about how a person can decide/be ok with what they deserve and what version of them is the best. Also, it really warmed my heart that, when it comes down to it, this is really sort of a love story. The decision Jason has to make between work/science and family/love is the basis of his entire dilemma and the choice he makes, then the decisions that follow as he fights to re-find/defend that choice, are emotional and touching.
This is an intelligent thriller and a beautiful homage to love and what truly makes a place (or reality) “home.” I was riveted from the first page and I dare you to not be similarly caught up.
This is not necessarily an important quote or moment for the book, but it really struck something in me, so I didn’t want to forget it: “…she felt that sense of giddy love that effervesces in the pit of your stomach and spectacularly upends the world.”