Early Departures, Justin A. Reynolds (Katherine Tegen 978-0-06-274840-9, $17.99, 480pp, hc) September 2020.
It is not a spoiler to share that Justin A. Reynolds’s latest, Early Departures, is about what happens when someone you care about dies suddenly and then, through the miracle of technology, is reanimated for a few weeks so everyone can say a proper goodbye. This is not a zombie novel nor, surprisingly, much of a science fiction one either. Much as his debut Opposite of Always was only slightly about time loops, Early Departures is barely about how Jamal’s best friend Q is brought back from the dead. Reynolds has a rich and thoughtful tale to tell here, about the people we love, the mistakes we make, and how far we are willing to go as we try to make things right.
Jamal and Q have been friends for a long time, but for the past two years they have barely spoken. Both teens have been through a lot: Jamal’s parents were killed in a car accident and Q’s father died from an illness. There are reasons the two turned against each other, reasons rooted in blame and despair, anger and blinding grief. They have orbited each other’s lives in school and out, and Jamal has missed his friend enormously. But he is still consumed with misplaced anger while Q nurses a healthy dose of resentment and ice-cold fury. Then, at a beach party like any other, Q goes into the water to save a stranger and Jamal realizes his friend is not going to make it out on his own. And then Q dies and his mother is given mere moments to make an unfathomable decision.
Reynolds does not waste time explaining how the reanimation technology works or even why it exists. The science is there to force Jamal into having to act – he now has a finite amount of time to make up with Q or lose the chance forever. Things get complicated fast when Q “awakens,” because how do you apologize to your best friend when he has no idea how important that apology has become? And once the first few tentative steps are taken to repairing a relationship, how do you keep a secret from him that is literally about life and death? Clearly, Jamal has a lot to work out and not much time to do it. At the same time he must juggle what Q’s mother wants, what his own girlfriend does not understand, and the unpredictable nature of Q’s “recovery.” The whole time the clock keeps ticking, the tension mounting, and a very bitter end is inescapable.
After reading both of Reynolds’s titles, I have come to realize that he is not just a storyteller but, perhaps even more importantly, a philosopher. He dances into the science fiction realm not to impress with possibility but more to push his readers to ask big questions and consider complicated answers. The graceful manner in which he accomplishes his studies of human nature and the compelling characters he creates along the way make his books unique in the YA science fiction/fantasy world. The plots are direct, the concerns are real, and the possibilities are endless. Mostly, though, Early Departures, like Opposite of Always, is a heartfelt exploration of the human condition. I eagerly await the next adventure from this shining light in teen literature.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the January 2021 issue of Locus.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.
©Locus Magazine. Copyrighted material may not be republished without permission of LSFF.