Release: May 14, 2013
Abby Barnes had a plan. The Plan. She'd go to Northwestern, major in journalism, and land a job at a national newspaper, all before she turned twenty-two. But one tiny choice—taking a drama class her senior year of high school—changed all that. Now, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Abby is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, miles from where she wants to be, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she's in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. Overnight, it's as if her past has been rewritten.Life is made of millions upon millions of moments, assembling minutes and months and years. In each one we make a choice, and for each choice we encounter a unique consequence, one that no one can predict. It is strange—scary, even—to ponder how one's life could have changed if even the smallest decision had gone differently. We can muse about what ifs, but in real life, we cannot know for sure if potentials play out as we imagined. In fiction, however, anyone can explore two realities diverged by one decision. Parallel allows readers to do just this, weaving interconnected narratives and showing how dramatically small choices can change lives.
With the help of Caitlin, her science-savvy BFF, Abby discovers that this new reality is the result of a cosmic collision of parallel universes that has Abby living an alternate version of her life. And not only that: Abby's life changes every time her parallel self makes a new choice. Meanwhile, her parallel is living out Abby's senior year of high school and falling for someone Abby's never even met.
As she struggles to navigate her ever-shifting existence, forced to live out the consequences of a path she didn't choose, Abby must let go of the Plan and learn to focus on the present, without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soul mate, and the destiny that's finally within reach.
Lauren Miller executes her complex, dual-narrative plot with clear, comprehensible explanations about parallel universes, making it clear that she did her research behind legitimate scientific theories. By establishing background knowledge with just enough details to explain but not confuse, the author lets readers focus on her story's events.
And the story's events demand thought and attention. The unpredictable shifts in the older Abby's life force readers to consider the novel's main question—what is the impact of the choices we make? Miller's setup—writing a chapter from the young Abby's point of view, allowing readers to guess how the events will change older Abby, and then showing them whether they were right or wrong in a chapter in the older girl's voice—lets readers experience the satisfaction of knowing two sets of effects for a choice. Although they cannot know the same about their own lives, reading this book will make them wonder how their own existences could be different.
However, as much as I loved the way Miller presents her question about consequences, I disagree with the answer she provides. Parallel argues that although our decisions may change our path, they do not change our destiny, and we will end up in the same spot no matter what road we take to get there. This claim is wrong; people create themselves and their futures, not follow a predetermined fate that they have no power to change. Especially when placed side-by-side with a plot that shows the effects of an individual's decisions, Miller's telling readers that these choices barely matter because the individual will end up in the same place regardless makes little sense.
Even more annoyingly, the author mainly applies this argument for fate to the protagonist's romantic relationships. Each version of Abby falls for a different boy, and the main character spends disproportionate amounts of time worrying about which one is her "soul mate" and which one she will end up with. This bothered me for two main reasons. First of all, soul mates do not exist; anyone can be happy with more than one person, and as I said previously, nothing about life is predetermined. Second of all, YA books that treat romance as the main conflict always irk me (unless the novel in question is specifically a romance novel) because they send questionable messages about what is important in life. Abby does worry about a variety of things her parallel might do, but she spends most of her time stressing about which boy her parallel will choose, implying that her college boyfriend is more important to the overall course of her life than anything else. Including less emphasis on romance and more emphasis on Abby herself would have improved Parallel exponentially.
Although my review may sound brutally negative, I did enjoy Miller's debut. I disagreed with its core ideas, but that did not prevent me from getting sucked into its plot and being intrigued by its explanations of parallel universes. Full of scientific theories, Parallel twisted my brain into knots, but smoothed them out with a plot that even someone who disagrees with the book's message can enjoy. I recommend this novel to fans of parallel universe stories and believers in destiny, and I cannot wait to see what Miller produces next.