Today, I'm reviewing the excellent Tandem. It's the first book in Anna Jarzab's Many-Worlds trilogy, and it explores the concept of parallel universes.
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Published October 8th 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2013)
Format read: ARC courtesy of publisher
Synopsis via Goodreads:
You. Your best friend. Every person you know.
Many worlds. Many lives--infinite possibilities.
Welcome to the multiverse.
Sixteen-year-old Sasha Lawson has only ever known one small, ordinary life. When she was young, she loved her grandfather's stories of parallel worlds inhabited by girls who looked like her but led totally different lives. Sasha never believed such worlds were real--until now, when she finds herself thrust into one against her will.
To prevent imminent war, Sasha must slip into the life of an alternate version of herself, a princess who has vanished on the eve of her arranged marriage. If Sasha succeeds in fooling everyone, she will be returned home; if she fails, she'll be trapped in another girl's life forever. As time runs out, Sasha finds herself torn between two worlds, two lives, and two young men vying for her love--one who knows her secret, and one who thinks she's someone she's not.
The first book in the Many-Worlds Trilogy, Tandem is a riveting saga of love and betrayal set in parallel universes in which nothing--and no one--is what it seems.
I like imagining the what-ifs possibilities of a parallel universe – e.g. what would my parallel self be doing, if I had made a different decision at some earlier point in time?
In Anna Jarzab’s Tandem, Sasha Lawson not only gets to learn about the life that one of her parallel self leads, she also (not altogether willingly) takes on that parallel self’s life. Princess Juliana of Aurora has disappeared in the days leading up to her arranged marriage, and it’s up to Sasha to take her place, until Juliana’s people can get her back.
This is a book that challenges readers to question the concept of self-identity, individuality, and a person’s ability to take on challenges, even when they quite literally, outside of their element. And it’s a book that you’re not going to want to miss.
Things that worked:
I’ll say this up front: Sasha is initially difficult to like. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with her per se, she’s just introspective and has been sheltered for so much of her life, it’s difficult for the reader to relate ot her.
But once she steps through the Tandem, Sasha absolutely blossoms. After some initial freak-outs over the situation, Jarzab shows Sasha actually beginning to asses and take charge of the situation around her, making sure that she lets everyone know that she won’t just be a pawn in their game. There is a very definitive character arc, and Jarzab will undoubtedly have readers cheering Sasha’s awesome and evident growth.
The secondary characters are just as engaging as Sasha. Thomas is initially straight as a rod in his allegiance to his duties, but Jarzab shows how he’s gradually influenced by personal circumstance and Sasha’s appearance in his life into changing his beliefs.
As for the other secondary characters – I loved that Jarzab could have gone with the conventional stereotypes in some circumstances, but chose not to. There’s one relationship that could have easily gone down a stereotypical route, but Jarzab shows how Sasha ends up bringing out the best in that situation.
While this is very much Sasha’s story, Jarzab also includes enough about Juliana, where I think that readers will genuinely understand the difficulties of her reality.
* The science
Jarzab does a fantastic job of explaining the fundamental science behind the parallel universes. Her explanations on why Sasha encounters what she does, and how the worlds came to be in the first place – including their minute and large-scale differences - are absolutely beautiful in their simplicity.
(To borrow a mathematical descriptor).
I was especially impressed with Jarzab’s ability to explain whysome universes are closer in their evolution, and why some end up dramatically different. I thought the idea of having one singular event divert Aurora from the path that Earth has taken, was especially clever.
(And the event itself will make counterfactual history buffs grin.)
* The writing
Outside of some slightly shaky initial chapters – more on this later – Jarzab writes in a way that fully immerses you into Sasha’s world. She captures the equal uncertainty and determination in Sasha’s mind, as she transitions from someone who is absolutely terrified at being someplace new, to someone who is taking charge of the situation.
There are also instances in which Jarzab switches perspectives to build upon the story and the framework of the world, and those transitions are flawless. She
I generally don’t comment on the formatting or the design of a book, but Tandem’s design is so spectacular, I had to bring it up.
It’s clear from even the ARC alone, that the team at Delacorte - particularly designer Sarah Pierson - has put a considerable amount of thought into making the book look as unique as the story itself.
Because the story is narrated from three different points of view, the design makes it clear who’s speaking in each chapter, with the use of specific symbols. The book also uses beautiful interstitials that make it clear where Sasha is.
(Anna has a blog entry about the design here)
Without getting too gushy about it, I would say that the story + the beautiful design absolutely makes Tandem a must-own. That’s definitely why I have my copy!
Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that Jarzab has written one heck of a cliffhanger. I predict that this is the type of cliffhanger that will have readers immediately clamoring for the next book.
Things to consider:
We get a lot of background on Sasha and her life, and I felt like it caused the narrative to meander a little bit.
I became absolutely immersed in the book once Sasha went through the Tandem, and I would encourage readers who are finding it hard to get through those initial chapters, to keep reading. The payoff is worth it.
I absolutely recommend this book for fans of both sci-fi and high fantasy YA, and also readers who like science fiction in general.
I also recommend Tandem to fans of TV shows like Fringe -another reviewer said – and of Doctor Who. Tandem has the same type of well-constructed, timey-wimey science that I think fans of both shows will highly enjoy.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Tandem from Random House, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!