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When I was a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. I loved being able to shape my story with my choices, and I confess to cheating a little by flipping ahead to see if the choice I made would result in my death or the end of the story.

 

As an adult, I realize how much life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure. There are multiple points in life where we are faced with an uncertain or difficult choice. Perhaps one of those choices leads you to the exciting life you always dreamt of. Another choice leaves you alone and sad. Which choice will give you your happy ending? Unlike books, you can’t hold the page while you flip ahead and see which choice is better, so you go with what you think is the best choice at the time and hope for the best. But what if you could “flash forward” so to speak? Would making different choices drastically change the future, or is the future fixed?

 

This is the question that Oona, the titular character in the novel Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore grapples with. When readers meet Oona,  it’s 1982, she’s celebrating New Year’s Eve and her birthday (at midnight, she’ll turn 19) with her boyfriend and friends. Oona is also faced with a choice. Put off University and go on tour with her band or stay behind in London and finish school.

 

When the clock strikes midnight, something strange happens. Oona passes out and wakes up as her 50 something self. Luckily, her confidant Kenzie (who she hasn’t met yet at 18) and her mom know exactly what’s going on and are there to help her navigate this strange new reality. Equally fortunate is that her future self was considerate enough to write her a note of explanation giving her just enough information about her life to catch her up.

 

As the title suggests, Oona is somehow living her life out of order. Every year at midnight she leaps into her life at a different point in time and lives that life for exactly one year before leaping again. The catch is that  not only does Oona have no idea what year she’ll leap into next, but for the most part, it’s out of sequence. She also doesn’t know if she’ll ever get back to her own time and have the chance to live her life properly. She has to rely on the previous year’s Oona leaving her a catch-up letter, and some years are more helpful than others.

 

In this life, Oona is alone, and not a rock star, but thanks to some careful financial decisions informed by information about stocks and sports scores that she picked up in the future, she’s extremely wealthy. Ignoring the warning issued by early Oona not to spend too much time investigating the past, she promptly asks Kenzie to help her look up all of her friends on the Internet and figure out what happened to each of them and why they are no longer in her life.

 

Each chapter chronicles one year in Oona’s life, and readers follow along as she lives multiple lives, and experiences moments of pain and joy as she tries to hold onto human connections even knowing that she’ll be gone from that life in a year.

 

After one particularly painful year of disappointment and heartbreak, Oona wakes up to find herself exactly one year earlier, and in the year that caused her so much pain the previous (next) year. Like most people probably would in her circumstances, she wonders if she can change her future and spare her future self. Despite her efforts to make completely different choices and shake things up, she’s unable to change things, leading her to wonder if the future is fixed.

 

This is an interesting question, and one I’m still pondering. Most time travel stories adopt the theory that by changing the past we can change the future. Life is full of significant moments we would love to change if we could. What if instead of turning to page 23 in our Choose Your Own Adventure story we turn to page 55? Sometimes it takes your story in a different direction, but sometimes, all the choices end up leading to the same place.

 

Oona doesn’t try to change any history but her own and so we’ll never know if she could have significantly changed the course of the world, but still, her experiences suggest that our destiny is pre-written and while we may take different paths to get there, all roads lead to the same place.

 

While Oona is never able to make any significant changes to how her life turns out, she does learn to live in the now, and not to keep her finger on the page while she tries to figure out if making a different choice would change the outcome of her future.

 

If you’re looking for a fun and thoughtful read for your next book club, don’t keep your finger on the page while you try to figure out what choice is best. Just pick this one up and enjoy the ride, and I hope you’ll get as much out of it as I did.

 

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Happy Reading!

 

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