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Cassandra in Reverse


Cassandra in Reverse

Holly Smale starts her debut novel on what seems like a pretty bad day for her protagonist, Cassandra. She’s lost her boyfriend, her job and her flat, all in short order. It’s no wonder that she tops it all off with a panic attack. But when she wakes up after passing out, she gradually realizes that she’s also, somehow, traveled back in time to the start of that horrible day. What’s more, she seems to have developed the ability, by simply closing her eyes and focusing, to travel back in time repeatedly to the recent past, giving her what’s essentially an infinite number of “do-overs.” Given enough opportunities, might she finally get it right and keep her boyfriend this time?

"Cassandra’s story develops in strange and unexpected ways. What feels at first like an unconventional romantic comedy develops into something quite different and extraordinary."

As with most magical abilities, however, Cassandra soon finds out that her newfound powers are more complicated than they first seem. Disappearing text messages result in miscommunications, small decisions backfire, and sometimes you just hate your job no matter how hard you try. And even when Cassandra tries (and tries again) to be the kind of spontaneous, flexible team player she knows other people want to be around, her need for order, calm and predictability gets in the way.

Readers come to realize that Cassandra’s brain works differently from most people’s, and many of her do-overs result from her need to try repeatedly to pick up on social cues that seem to come so easily to other people. Smale resists labeling Cassandra’s condition --- partly because Cassandra herself doesn’t have a label for it until very close to the novel’s end, and partly because, in doing so, she compels readers to know Cassandra as a complete, complex person, not just, as Cassandra says at one point, “a list of adjectives.”

Cassandra’s name is also anything but accidental. Her parallels to the character from Greek mythology who was cursed to know the future but never to be believed are increasingly apt as her story develops. She consistently draws parallels between classical mythology and her own life, as a way of both making sense of her world and to remain close to her mother, a classics scholar who died 10 years earlier. Readers who are familiar with these myths will find the most to appreciate here, but even those who don’t know mythology well will become immersed in Cassandra’s world.

Cassandra’s story develops in strange and unexpected ways. What feels at first like an unconventional romantic comedy develops into something quite different and extraordinary. It turns out that the relationship most in need of repair and a do-over is not what Cassandra expects at the outset. Smale effectively brings readers into Cassandra’s singular mind and along on her journey in what feels like a brave voyage of discovery. Readers will only regret that they can’t close their eyes and experience it for the first time all over again.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 10, 2023

Cassandra in Reverse
by Holly Smale

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Mira
  • ISBN-10: 0778334538
  • ISBN-13: 9780778334538