Paperback, 356 pages.
Release date: September 3rd 2015.
Rating: 4½ out of 5.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
How many times can you lose the person you love?
Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again, century after century. Each time, their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated.
Spanning the Crimean War, the Siege of Carlisle and the near-future of 2019 and 2039 they find themselves sacrificing their lives to save the world. But why do they keep coming back? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace?
Maybe the next together will be different...
Take a look at any bookshelf in 2015 and you’ll come face to face with a treasure trove of cutting-edge contemporaries and lush high fantasies. Look a little further, however, and you’ll find one of the most original UKYA débuts in years winning fans from all sides in the run up to publication. That début is The Next Together, a dramatic and enthralling tale of romance and intrigue split across three centuries.
We first meet Katherine and Matthew in a laboratory in 2039. And in 1745 before the Siege of Carlisle. And again during the Crimean War in 1854. And, in my favourite storyline, through post-it notes, power-points, e-mails, texts, status updates, diary entries and Tumblr posts from their lives in 2019. In fact, letters, articles, postcards and maps bring a touch of magic to all three of these otherwise straightforward stories, tying them together as they brim over with love, tragedy and hope. Kate and Matt’s romance draws you in and has you racing to discover their destiny; I absolutely adored it.
Their story is a veritable melting pot of themes and storylines, all rounded off with a distinct, economical and shamelessly British writing style. It has everything you could wish for and more: time travel, unusual settings, memorable leads, history, science, humour, LGBTQ+ characters, star-crossed lovers. It even brings us characters in a positive long-term relationship, something I really want to see more of in YA. It’s inventive, sweet and down-to-earth. It works as a standalone, but readers will be thrilled to hear a sequel is already slated for release next year. The Next Together has so much going on, in fact, it almost shouldn’t work - but it does. Somehow, this patchwork quilt of a novel pulls together into a warm, comforting story readers will want to return to time and again.
There’s a sense that feisty, exuberant Kate could easily crash from one embarrassing situation to the next, but she’s witty, brave and bashful, and I couldn’t help but fall for her. This book is full of unexpected humour, and Kate is at the heart of it. She doesn’t hold back and she will grow on you. Matthew is her long-suffering partner in crime, but behind that shy smile and messy hair is a courageous, honourable and above all, deeply good guy. He’s such a breath of fresh air against a backdrop of brooding YA heroes; it won’t be long before you fall for him, too. I loved Matt’s brother laidback Tom, too - and of course Kate’s cool, chatty grandmothers Nancy and Flo. I almost wished we could’ve spent more time with them.
Indeed, one of the only real drawbacks of the book was that I simply wanted more of all of it. The Next Together is quite a compact book, with hit-and-miss pacing – the early pages dawdle and later scenes are rushed – and I couldn’t help wishing it was a little longer. Other issues can be traced to this, too: some plot problems are just too easy for our leads to figure out and there are definite plot holes. I’d hoped for more passion and emotion in the writing (but that’s probably because I’d just finished reading Crown of Midnight which is basically the written equivalent of an emotional hurricane) and it’s missing illustrative description too, so while it’s easy to let historical discrepancies slide as creative licence, readers will have to work to conjure up scenery and visuals. The book’s minor characters are hastily sketched at best and it doesn’t escape the age-old problem of tell vs. show, either.
Yet even in this constantly shifting sea of storylines, The Next Together does an excellent job of keeping you on your toes. Even the finale raises more questions than it answers. There’s something refreshingly innocent and old-school about the way this book looks at the world, yet it’s modern and engaging. The first half of the book is a slow burn, but it’s full of mystery and by the time Kate and Matt start unravelling the threads of the conspiracy around them, it’s all kicking off: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...
Okay, so only some of those things happen here. But I don’t quote The Princess Bride without good reason. This is a love story to rival any fairy-tale, and you’re looking for a début that packs a surprising amount of action into its pages, this book is for you. Lauren James writes such heartfelt leads and such emotional drama, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the joy, and possibilities, of this storytelling universe.
In short: this book is like gold dust. Deeply romantic, refreshingly real and wonderfully original, it is a stellar début from an incredibly talented new voice in YA fiction. The Next Together will capture your heart and your imagination. It’s charming, ambitious and surprising, and once you’re hooked, you won’t want to put it down. It’s gut-wrenching, heart-warming, near-perfect and very, very funny. I can’t wait to see what Lauren James has in store for us next.