In a World Just Right, by Jen Brooks

I wrote a handful of reviews a few months ago about some books I bought my children at a YA book reading event for several local authors. Many of the books sounded wonderful, but I limited the purchases to one book per child. This one was just outside everyone’s top choices, but it came with a very interesting premise. A couple weeks later, I was given an Amazon gift card, so I finally bought it.

And I’m so glad I did. It has turned out to be my favorite from that event. Let’s set the story:

When he was eight years old, Jonathan was one of three survivors of a plane crash that killed most of his family and left him badly scarred. Ten years later, he lives with his uncle, and they barely interact. He regularly skips classes and probably won’t graduate—let alone go to any kind of college. He’s a loner at school, having created walls that close him off from his classmates.

Despite his sad and unfortunate existence, Jonathan is smart and creative. So creative, in fact, that he has the power to create alternate realities—worlds similar to our own yet very different, worlds designed to play out according to his initial parameters. When the real world gets him too down, Johnathan can just close his eyes tightly and imagine himself in another world. If I could satisfy some guilty pleasures in “Jonathan’s smoking hot dance club,” I’d occasionally skip classes too!

The world he visits the most—the world that’s just right—is the one where he doesn’t have any scars, the one where he’s a star athlete on the spring track team, the one where Kylie Simms is his girlfriend. She’s smart, athletic, beautiful, and totally in love with him…because that’s the way he made her.

He sneaks through her bedroom window one night (this is a regular occurrence in the “made up” world) because he really needs her, though he’s not sure why. The next morning, he goes to school and is about to kiss her in front of her friends when he realizes he’s in the “real” world. He meant to jump worlds but goofed. He’s terrified and embarrassed because loner-Jonathan approaching popular-Kylie is soon to be school gossip.

But something strange happens. “Real” Kylie starts interacting with him in creative writing class. She’s having dreams, memories, déjà vu—something strange—from “fake” Kylie’s experiences with Jonathan. The worlds have been shaken up in some way, with Kylie at the epicenter. As Jonathan gets closer with “real” Kylie, “fake” Kylie senses he’s becoming distant. Even Jonathan feels some of the bizarre guilt of cheating on his girlfriend…with his girlfriend.

I loved the use of creative writing classes as a way for Jonathan to test how the bridge between the Kylies is working. Her experiences with him in one world bleed into her poetry in the other. As a writer, I’ve often wondered where some of my inspiration comes from. Whether a theory on inspiration was author Jen Brooks’ intent, it was a cool idea that formed in my head as I read these great scenes. Maybe the inspiration for the idea came from another me in another world. Who knows?

Anyway, the stakes are raised when another “world-maker,” who has a connection to Jonathan, appears and tells him that the two Kylies can’t exist forever in their peculiar interconnectedness. I love ticking-clock elements like this in stories, and I delayed sleep an hour or so one night to finish the final quarter of the book. Obviously, Jonathan wants to save Kylie, but which one? Can he save both? And what happens to them if he can’t (or doesn’t) save them?

The book is narrated from Jonathan’s point of view, and he immediately comes across as a likeable and believable character. I felt his pain and disappointment in the real world. I felt his joy and elation in his just right world. I felt the moral dilemma he ponders—and it’s a doozy! He has created a world where Kylie exists simply to be his girlfriend; is that right or ethical? And when the real Kylie starts showing interest in him, is that right too, since it may be caused by his actions in both the worlds? These are deep questions about human nature: who or what is guiding us? Do we have free will, or are we creations who are playing out pre-programmed destinies?

The book doesn’t try to answer these unanswerable questions. Instead it takes some twists and turns towards the end regarding why the worlds are colliding. I semi-predicted one of the twists, but then the story went somewhere I didn’t expect—somewhere exciting and, in the very end, quite hopeful. And that’s life. Whether we’re guided along or we guide our own and others’ paths, it’s still a heck of a ride, full of opportunities that we haven’t taken yet.

This world can be just as right as we make it to be. And this book—well, it’s a book just right at FIVE STARS.

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In a World Just Right is available at Amazon.

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