Publisher: Dial Books
Release: June 2, 2015
Stereotypes, sexuality, and destructive rumors collide in this smart YA novel for fans of Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl, Siobhan Vivian’s The List, and E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.What a dazzling, dramatic, encore-inducing story. Like It Never Happened has some sort of magic about it—some sort of theatrical wonder—that makes it unlike any novel I've ever read before. Every scene bursts with vivid emotion and uniqueness, but the book is so all-around fantastic that I cannot quite pinpoint what, precisely, makes the story stand out. So instead, I'll focus on a handful of its attributes—a few characteristics that may not entirely explain my adoration but that hint at a few items that this book undeniably is.
When Rebecca Rivers lands the lead in her school’s production of The Crucible, she gets to change roles in real life, too. She casts off her old reputation, grows close with her four rowdy cast-mates, and kisses the extremely handsome Charlie Lamb onstage. Even Mr. McFadden, the play’s critical director, can find no fault with Rebecca.
Though “The Essential Five” vow never to date each other, Rebecca can’t help her feelings for Charlie, leaving her both conflicted and lovestruck. But the on and off-stage drama of the cast is eclipsed by a life-altering accusation that threatens to destroy everything…even if some of it is just make believe.
Like It Never Happened is totally and immediately absorbing. The plot may seem a bit slow in the beginning, but Rebecca's voice and story had me hooked from page one. Emily Adrian employs the classic trick of bestowing her protagonist with a mysterious backstory to keep readers intrigued through a background-building exposition, then keeps readers fascinated by unraveling Rebecca's past and slowly building the rumor-related plotline. Whether it was curiosity about the origins of Rebecca's reputation or a desperate need to discover whether the rumors would become as destructive as the blurb claims, something always kept me turning pages and struggling to look away.
Like It Never Happened is lifelike and vibrant. Despite the characters' devotion to acting, I adored the realism of their real-life relationships. The leads in every school play, Rebecca and her friends call themselves the "Essential Five" and form an exclusive theater troupe. However, despite the close, almost clique-ish relationship that comes from hours of grueling rehearsal, the five do not share the miraculous bond that is so common in groups of YA friends. Some members of the Essential Five are closer than others; some share a secret and toxic history; and the group's relationship, while not bad by any means, is overall messy and imperfect. Adrian executes this group friendship impeccably, making every moment seem authentic. And while I have nothing against inspiring, tell-each-other-everything friendships (there's a reason The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a YA classic), it is refreshing to read about a group that isn't quite so perfect.
Most of all, Like It Never Happened is not at all what I expected. I went in expecting a fun story about performing arts, full of stage drama and references to The Crucible. What I got instead was a thought-provoking meditation on the destructive power of rumors and stereotypes. And since Adrian's debut manages to contain all of this while still including plenty of theater-life scenes, I have no complaints about the inversion of my expectations. (Well, I was a bit disappointed about the lack of references to The Crucible, which sounds prominent in the blurb but is actually only mentioned as Rebecca's first play. Instead, the theater is working on A Streetcar Called Desire when all the action takes place. But aside from that, Like It Never Happened satisfied me entirely.)
After that not-nearly-exhaustive list, I've come to the following conclusion: what makes this book so glorious is not any one element, but the overall effect. The friendship dynamic complements the plot, which supports Adrian's messages to readers. Like It Never Happened is an expertly-crafted puzzle, the pieces fitting together more naturally and smoothly than those of any other book I have read in a long time. Each large and small element is lovely on its own, but when they all combine? The final result is a work of art as stunning as a Broadway play.