Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Parallel by Lauren Miller: Just When This Book Has You Thinking It's Some Dumb Sweet Valley Crap, It Goes All Awesomely Quantum Mechanics On You.

Parallel by Lauren Miller comes out on May 14, but a friend with impeccable taste lent me her advance reading copy to review. This is my first advance review, and I'm pretty darn chuffed about it! I hate to say this, but Parallel didn't make a good first impression on me. The first thirty or so pages seemed like insipid chick-lit. The main characters are effortlessly, superlatively perfect, and I kind of hated them all for it. Especially when they made fun of a girl who has to work out to stay slim! Just when I was ready to put the book down, it started to explore free will, parallel dimensions and parallel selves, and the impact of even our smallest choices. I was hooked. This is good sci-fi dressed up to look like Sweet Valley High. And the author knows exactly what she's doing; she calls it sci-chic. She takes all the best elements of a genre that isn't exactly known for being popular with women, and creates something smart that girly-girls can call their own.


Have you ever wondered how your life might be different if you'd made just one different choice? For three years, I was obsessed with becoming an attorney. I was in love with a guy who showed no sign of ever being able to support himself, and I figured that going to law school would give this English major a shot at being a good breadwinner. So I lived and breathed LSAT practice tests and Princeton Review. The day after I broke up with that guy, I woke up and thought Now I don't have to be an attorney. I can be a librarian! Y'all, I didn't even know I'd wanted to be a librarian until that moment. That morning changed my life, and I have no regrets. But sometimes I wonder how I'd be different if I'd gone to law school instead of library school. Imagining myself carrying a briefcase and wearing a power suit is pretty hilarious. If I think about it too hard, I start to wonder Who is that girl? 

This book asks the same question: If you made choices that led you down a different path in life, who would you be?
Would you still be the same person? And if your reality and the reality in which the "parallel" version of you existed were to somehow collide, what would happen? That's what happens to Abby Barnes in Parallel. The two realities literally collide, and one overtakes the other. But the realities don't exist on the same timeline; one is happening a year ahead of the other. So when Abby goes to bed at night, she might wake up to a completely different life the next day. It all depends on what sort of choices her Parallel made a year before.

It all starts on Abby's 18th birthday. She goes to bed in Hollywood, where she is filming an action movie opposite the Sexiest Man Alive. Yeah, it sounds cheesy, but bear with me. The next morning, she wakes up in a dorm room at Yale, with no clue how she got there. But she has memories from both realities. With the help of Caitlin, her physics geek best friend, and a kooky professor who has wacky theories about parallel realities, Abby realizes what's happened. Abby remembers that her Parallel fell deeply in love with a guy named Josh during her senior year of high school. Abby is casually dating Michael, a cute Yalie, but their relationship isn't nearly as special as the bond she remembers sharing with Josh. Abby scrambles to make sense of it all, and eventually she tries to manipulate the situation to create the best romantic outcome.

If you've seen the movie Sliding Doors (hands down my favorite chick flick of all time), the premise will be familiar. But Miller takes it a step further by making Abby aware of her two parallel lives. When Abby sees both options and takes action to create the life she wants, she becomes a much stronger character than Helen in Sliding Doors.

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So I like the strength of Abby's character, but mostly I like Parallel because it builds a story upon a philosophical framework that I hold dear. Have you ever shared such a profound connection with someone that you knew they were meant to be part of your life, no matter what? Yeah, me too. I believe that destiny and free will are not mutually exclusive: Certain events and people are destined to be part of our lives, but we choose the path we take to get there.

And that doesn't just apply to romance! Abby's soulmates are the touchstones that keep her grounded as she sorts through her parallel lives. In one parallel life, Abby's friendship with Caitlin falls apart. Abby can't get back on track until she's made things right with Caitlin; Caitlin is one of Abby's soulmates. Men aren't our only soulmates! That's one of my favorite things about this book. Lauren Miller shows that friendships with women have just as much value as romance.

Do you believe in destiny, free will, or some combination of both?

5 comments:

  1. Bigbad is working on a paper right now focused on time travel narratives and predestination. I am sharing this with him because it sounds fascinating!

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    1. That's so cool! If I remember correctly, literature is his field too... What pieces of literature does he base his paper on? I wish Parallel was out already so he could take a look at it.

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  2. Great review! I love hearing what other people have to say about what they're reading. I'll check it out when it's released!

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    1. Thanks! If even just one person reads Parallel because of this review, I'll be thrilled. :D

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  3. Ooh, this one sounds fun, too! It reminds me of Pretty Little Mistakes but as one story, not vignettes. That one doesn't have the sci-fi angle, but it does work from the premise that one choice can change your destiny. And I agree with your eloquent point that destiny and free will aren't mutually exclusive. That makes me think of that Incubus lyric "Fate, or something better, I could care less, just stay with me a while."

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