Have you ever wondered if your life would be completely different if you'd made a different choice at a certain point? As we get older, it is not surprising to look back and see pivotal points in our lives and wonder "What if I had chosen differently?" Well that is the premise behind Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young's jointly authored novel, Just Like Fate.
Caroline Cabot has been living with her Gram for the last five years, after her parents bitter divorce. When she is called down to the principal's office, she learns that her beloved Gram has had a serious stroke. Caroline races to St. Mark's Hospital to be with her, not bothering to wait for her brother Teddy to pick her up at school. At the hospital, her older sister, Natalie meets Caroline and takes her to Gram's room where they meet their mom and their two year old stepsister, Judith.
Outside Gram's room, Caroline's mom tells them that Gram's cancer has spread and that she will likely die within days. Gram is transferred to a hospice and Caroline goes back to school while members of her family keep vigil. Caroline has moved to her mom's house to be close by her Gram. Three days pass without much change in Gram's condition. Caroline's friend, Simone, asks her to go to a party but Caroline refuses, explaining to Simone that she can't simply abandon her grandmother at this time. She explains to Simone that her gram is not going to get better - "People don't get released from hospice... she's still dying." But Simone encourages her to take a break, telling her the party will be a distraction from what is happening at home.
After school Caroline returns to the hospice to see how her Gram is doing and learns that she is becoming weaker. Natalie and Caroline, who have not gotten along for years, become involved in an argument when Natalie warns Caroline not to act out. Caroline decides that she is fed up with Natalie and decides to leave the hospice. When Simone calls her to ask if she has made a decision regarding the party, the novel breaks off into two separate stories, one told in the chapters titled "Stay" where Caroline decides to stay at the hospice that evening to be with Gram as she lays dying, the other told in chapters titled "Go" where she attends the party with Simone, leaving Gram to die. From this point on the reader follows what happens to Caroline, comparing the consequences of each choice in two separate story lines.
In the "Stay" chapters, Caroline returns to the Gram's room and apologizes to Natalie, leading to the sisters making up with one another. When Caroline's mom and stepdad, Albert, return, Gram wakes up and asks to speak to each of the grandchildren alone, beginning with Natalie, then Teddy and finally, her favourite, Caroline. Gram passes away and Caroline settles in at her old room at her mom's house. Meanwhile Simone fills her in on the party that she missed telling her that the boy she's been crushing on since forever, Joel Ryder, was asking about her. In school after Gram's funeral, Joel surprises Caroline by reaching out to her, although why he does is a mystery to her.
Caroline is confused about Joel's intentions because he is dating another girl, Lauren who is attending college out of town. Caroline at first tries to steer clear of Joel but he is persistent. Although he sends Caroline mixed messages, being overly affectionate and then ignoring her in school she can't seem to resist him. After several make-out sessions in which Caroline still feels confused about Joel's intentions, she decides to tell Natalie what is going on. Natalie, whom Caroline has become closer to, tells her that being a cheater never makes you feel good about yourself. Despite Joel breaking up with his girlfriend, Caroline finds her relationship with him not to be what she expected or wants. When Caroline, Joel, and Natalie attend a rock concert, fate intervenes and Caroline meets a boy she repeatedly seen over the last few months.
In the "Go" chapters, Caroline makes the decision to go to the party with Simone, to escape some of the family drama while believing that she may have a few more days with her Gram. At the party she meets a cute blonde haired boy named Christopher Drake (Chris) who attends Clinton College. Chris is friendly and has a great sense of humour and despite her sad feelings, Caroline finds herself attracted to him. Caroline is surprised to see Joel Ryder, the boy she's crushed on since grade four, at the party. As she goes to meet up with Joel in the backyard, Caroline receives a phone call telling her Gram is dying. Caroline races to the hospice but does not make it in time to say good-bye to Gram. In shock, she leaves the hospice and unexpectedly meets Chris who has left the party and needs a ride to his friend's place. Chris who is a freshman at Clinton tries to ask her out, but Caroline tells him she's not ready.
After the funeral Caroline ends up estranged from just about everyone; Simone, her mother and Natalie. This leads her to make some big changes in her life; she moves in with her father and his new wife, Debra, and she attends Clinton High. Caroline's repeated encounters with Chris lead her to start dating him even though she learns from Simone that Joel Ryder has broken off with his girlfriend, Lauren.
Despite enjoying a good relationship with her father and stepmother, Debra and her new boy friend Chris, Caroline must deal with bullying at Clinton High, and heal her relationship with her sister and mother. But things start to go awry when Caroline suspects Chris of cheating on her. When she learns the truth from Teddy about Chris, instead of running, Caroline tries to repair her relationships
This novel is very similar to the 1998 film, Sliding Doors in which a young woman's relationship and future vary depending upon whether or not she catches a subway train. When I read this novel I decided to read the Stay chapters only and then return to the beginning and read the Go chapters. Readers will be impressed with both story lines however they choose to read the novel, and will come to understand the significance of the book's title.
The Go storyline was more interesting and was better written, demonstrating growth in Caroline. At the hospice, Natalie accuses Caroline of being a "runner", that is, she runs away from all her problems instead of dealing with them. In the Stay storyline, Caroline continues this behaviour to the very end, abandoning Joel who is a problem for her at the concert and leaving with Chris. However, in the Go storyline, Caroline actively reaches out to Natalie, Teddy, her mother, and Chris to repair the relationships that have been broken because of misunderstandings and poor choices.
The epilogue ties the theme of choices and fate together using the lead singer from a fictional rock group, Electric Freakshow, whose concert the characters in the novel attend in the last chapters. The group has a song entitled Magnates For Fate, which seems to suggest that our lives are controlled by fate. In an interview, the vocalist, River Devlin is angry that people, including his own band-mates, don't understand the message of the song; that we are free to live our own lives, making mistakes, because even those mistakes are important. After listening to the interview, Caroline comes to realize that whatever choice she made, the life that came out of that decision is important and relevant. Regardless of the choices we make, we may very well end up in the same spot in our lives, but the journey getting there is significant and makes us who we are. We will never know how another choice might have changed our lives, but that doesn't matter because the choice we made, for good or bad, make us who we are today.
Another important theme in this novel is that of family no matter what choices we make. This is emphasized in the Go storyline through the character of Debra, who encourages Caroline to heal the rift between her and her mother and Natalie when she tells her, "But I promise you, there will come a day when you really need someone -and it'd be nice to have a sister. Everyone needs family."
Overall, Just Like Fate has a unique concept behind it coupled with a sensitive, realistic protagonist in Caroline Cabot.
Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young
New York: Simon Pulse