Perhaps the most difficult part about transitioning from childhood to adulthood is the powerful, slow-building realization that your actions are going to have long-ranging, life-defining consequences. Do one thing, you could meet your future spouse; do another, and you could end up pursuing a career on the other side of the country, never even meeting the person who would so define your life. Fittingly, Lauren Miller’s debut young adult novel Parallel deals with a young woman who, after an unpredictable cosmic event, finds herself mysteriously connected to a past she never lived, one in which each choice she never remembers making can change her current life drastically.
For a book with so heady a premise, Parallel never gets too weighed down in the details. This is no hard sci-fi; rather, Miller uses the cosmic collision to look at the life and choices of heroine Abby Barnes – how they affect not only Abby’s own life, but the lives of those around her. It’s a smart move, and far from the last one Miller will make throughout the novel. This is the most fun I’ve had with a young adult novel in ages.
Parallel’s biggest strength and biggest weakness are the same thing: its characters. Miller builds a believable cast of young adults, many of whom are a joy to spend time with (Tyler and Caitlin in particular liven up just about any scene they’re in), but Abby suffers the most from science fiction premise. Past Abby, whose brief actions are intended to have grave repercussions on the future, often comes across as shrill and manipulative in a way that Present Abby, who has to deal with those consequences, never does, which creates a disconnect between the two characters. Similarly, because so much of Present Abby is dedicated to uncertainty and confusion as the world (and her history) shifts around her, she spends much of the story passive, unable to do anything to save herself or change her situation until the book’s final moments.
Even if I didn’t love Parallel – and I don’t – I’d still recommend it quite highly as the rare young adult novel that feels truly thoughtful and inventive. Besides being a winning, genuinely engaging story that uses its science fiction trappings to literalize a common angst of growing older, it also manages the neat trick of ending where most romantic comedies begin: with a meet-cute blossoming into two people who feel like they have a lifetime of history. Parallel doesn’t always succeed in giving them a terribly interesting history, but it does manage to capture the feeling of meeting someone and instantly realizing: You. You’re the one.
Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in rural Ohio. He’s been writing online for over 5 years now, and you can currently find more of his work at read/RANT and Comics Crux.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperTeen. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.