Neverwas

Neverwas continues the story of Sarah and Jackson in Amber House, who are not quite the same people. History has shifted thanks to Sarah’s successful rescue of her brother and aunt. As a result, this Sarah’s parents are happily married. There are other changes too, some good and some bad. Jackson’s aunt Ruth is dying. Hathaway’s mother never left him. Sarah’s best friend no longer exists.

The small changes Sarah understands, but there are deeper changes as well from farther back in history. The American Revolution failed. Nazi Germany won the war. North America is split into three countries, with Amber House located in the Confederate-like country where slavery has only recently been abolished.

How could saving her brother and aunt have caused such large changes to history? It makes no sense, and Sarah doesn’t want to fix it. She doesn’t believe that she can fix it. Together, she and Jackson start to unravel what happened—Jackson eagerly, Sarah unwillingly. Together they realize where history went wrong, and that it’s up to them to fix it, again.

Neverwas is a strong second book in the Amber House series. Though it lacks the beautiful imagery that made the first book a delight, Neverwas is based on an interesting “what-if” concept that will hook readers. The story explores what might have happened if the American Revolution failed, and the ripple effects it would have on world history; these changes keep the story interesting enough to keep the pages turning. The authors also did a wonderful job developing the alternate-Sarah. Sarah is still clearly herself, yet there are changes to her personality and how she views the world, changes that are there due to the fact that her parents are happily married, her aunt is alive, and other small alterations to her past.

This Sarah is not as likable as the Sarah in book one. The Neverwas Sarah is not as strong, she can be frivolous and clueless, and she would rather bury her head in the sand than try to change history again. But with Jackson and her brother urging her on, she does a commendable job of pulling herself up by her bootstraps, and in the end, she does all she can to rectify history and bring a better future. Overall, Neverwas has a theme of helping others, even when the cost to yourself may be great.

 Sexual Content

  • When a boy sees that he and Sarah are under the mistletoe, “his lips softly brushed my cheek.”
  • In an echo of the past, Sarah sees two people whose “lips met in a kiss that made me look away.”
  • In another echo, “A man had Maeve pinned against the wall. She was struggling to get away from him, but he had her arm twisted up behind her back. He kissed her. Hard. A possessive, violent gesture.” She is rescued, and tells him, “I should kill you, Ramsay. Just know if I ever see you on my property again, I will shoot first and swear you tried to rape me later.”
  • Jackson kisses Sarah once. “His lips met mine. Gently—so gently—but also fiercely. As if this belonged to him. As if he had waited for it. As if there was nothing in the world but that kiss. It could have lasted forever and it would have ended too soon. My first kiss.”

Violence

  • Deirdre finds a female slave who was “a tumble of limbs, her face battered and bloody.”
  • Sarah lives in an alternate world where Nazi Germany won the war and still exists. She is furious when a Nazi comes to her family’s Christmas party. “In seventy-five years, the Nazis had wiped out all the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and disabled people in Europe.”
  • Jackson hits his head and has a seizure as a result. “He got to his feet abruptly, bumping his head hard against the mantel. He lifted his hand to his temple and brought away fingers wet with blood. Then his head jerked backward as he crumpled to the floor…his left arm and leg began to shake, and a trickle of blood oozed from his nose.”
  • A racist man asks Jackson, “What happened to you, boy? Half a lynching?”
  • Jackson and Sarah are attacked. “Jaeger raised a hand, and a blade into view. He stabbed it into Jackson. I saw the crimson of blood spreading all around the wound.” Sarah later shoots Jaeger. “Jaeger staggered back, sinking to one knee, his hand clapped to his shoulder. He brought his hand away to see; it was covered with blood.”
  • When a Nazi tries to stab a Jew, another man’s “hand came up and slammed into the Reichsleiter’s face…then [the Reichsleiter’s] face sank into the circle of backs surrounding him. The crowd seemed to swallow him. His protests ceased. The thud of blows continued.”
  • A man tries to kill Nyangu. “She reached out with claws and slashed his face…She grabbed the door frame and leapt up, jamming her bent legs forward to hit the Captain’s midsection with her heels. He doubled over, gasping, and she jerked loose, scrabbling up and away.”
  • When the Captain tries to kill her, Nyangu throws a sack of poisonous spider eggs at him. The spiders hatch, and “I saw tiny spiders swarming his face. Hundreds of them. More. They filled the claw marks down the cheek. They crawled along the lashes of his staring eyes.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sarah describes a bow of hers as, “hanging drunkenly to one side.”
  • A boy teasingly asks Sarah if she has “been sampling too much eggnog” when she spaces off.
  • In an echo, Sarah sees a man who “wavered slightly on his feet, and I understood he was drunk.”

Language

  • “God,” “Good Lord,” and other variations are used as exclamations frequently. For example, Sarah’s mother says, “Oh, my God.” Another time Rose exclaims, “Lordy, child.”
  • “Holy Jesus” is used once. A man says, “Holy Jesus, I just about lost my lunch looking at you.”
  • A boy calls himself a “git.”
  • “Damn it” is used twice. A sheriff yells, “Stop, dammit! You come back here.”
  • Sarah’s brother tells her, “You always get the crappy fortunes.”
  • “Bitch” is used in a poem once, referring to a dog. “A restless hound intent to make her bed…one chance there is to bring this bitch to heel.”
  • When a Jew calls a Nazi a murderer and grabs his arm, the Nazi says, “Unhand me, you filthy Jew.”
  • A news report in a Confederate-like state says, “The only known casualty is a negro youth who is presumed to have set the blaze.”

Supernatural

  • Sarah can see visions of things that happened in Amber House’s past when she touches items from its past, such as a doorknob or Christmas ornament. They are called echoes.
  • Jackson can see pieces of the future and different possible futures.
  • Sarah can feel where Jackson is, even when she cannot see him. She can use this strange sense of “Hotter, Colder” to find him.
  • Sarah finds an evil coin that a man used to change the future. “It seemed almost to squirm. My mind’s eye exploded with telescoping images…I felt possessed, attacked…violence surrounded them, every form of corruption, every kind of death, and I was drowning in it.”

Spiritual Content

  • Sarah’s family goes to a Catholic church service. The service itself is described very briefly; the morning is treated more like a social outing.
  • A girl says, “Merciful Lord” and “crossed myself to ward off evil,” when she finds a nearly dead woman.
  • A little girl says she doesn’t like the story of Pandora or of Eve from the Bible. Her grandmother says, “I used to think that too, Annie. But then I thought, what if we should be grateful to Pandora and Eve instead of blaming them? What if they did exactly what God wanted them to do—to choose choice itself? To bring change and chance into an orderly world.”
  • Sarah has her fortune told by a woman who says she is Catholic. The woman owns The New Dawn Metaphysical Bookshop and says, “Person can’t help it if she can see things other people can’t.”
  • Sarah’s aunt says, “Maybe God is an artist. He saw something deeper. And you must be here to help Him lay it bare.”

by Morgan Lynn

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