Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Cassandra in Reverse

Cassandra in Reverse
  Cassandra in Reverse
Author:  Holly Smale
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2023. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0778334538 / 978-0778334538

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Where does a story start?"

Favorite Quote:  "That's the thing I've never really understood about emotions. We're given unhelpful words for them - sad, happy, angry, scared, disgusted - but they're not accurate and there never seems to be anywhere near enough of them. How could there be? Emotions aren't binary or finite: they change, shift, run into each other like colored water. They are layered, three-dimensional and twisted; they don't arrive in order, one by one, labeled neatly. They lie on top of each other, twisting like kaleidoscopes, like prisms, like spinning bird feathers lit with their own iridescence."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


I want to love this book because representation matters. The main character of this book is neurodiverse. Diverse main characters matter. As the book description states, "Cassandra Penelope Dankworth likes what she likes, and strongly dislikes what she doesn't. Her life runs in a pleasing, predictable order." The actual idea that the character is neurodiverse comes as a "reveal" well into the book. However, to this reader (and, I think, most readers), this is not a revelation. The fact that it is a reveal to Cassandra herself is sad for here is an adult who should have received intervention and support as a child and did not. I would hope that would not be the case in real life. That aspect of Cassandra's life is unfortunately never addressed, and, to me, it is a missed opportunity.

I want to love this book because I love the opening. "It’s a lie, the first page of a book, because it masquerades as a beginning. A real beginning—the opening of something—when what you’re being offered is an arbitrary line in the sand. This story starts here. Pick a random event. Ignore whatever came before it or catch up later. Pretend the world stops when the book closes, or that a resolution isn’t simply another random moment on a curated timeline." That is so completely true, and yet, as reader, we are content to go along with the beginning, middle, and end as offered. It is part of the experience. I love the idea, but it is not really explored further. I suppose it is meant to feed into the idea of Cassandra's ability to time travel, but the connection is lost.

I want to love this book because the character discovers the ability to go back in time and live moments over. How many of us have wished for this at times? Some would go back and relish a special, happy moment. Many more would go back to change an action, undo a mistake, or do things differently to get a different outcome. Cassandra is one of the latter. The idea is relatable. Interestingly, the idea of how and why Cassandra discovers this ability is never explored. It is presented matter of fact and as a part of the given background of Cassandra's life story. This is not a story about magical realism. I am left wondering why and how.

Unfortunately, despite all the reasons I want to love the book, I end up not the reader for this book. Cassandra's entire cycle of do-overs is focused on having a different outcome in a relationship. The book begins with Cassandra getting dumped. Over and over and over, Cassandra tries for a different outcome. In that process, many other things change in Cassandra's life, many for the better.  However, her focal point keeps returning to that one relationship. There appears to be some character growth, and other relationships do grow and change. However, it seems to keep being undone as Cassandra keeps trying over and over again.

Unfortunately, the ending makes the whole thing worse. No spoilers, but I really, really wish that the ending was different!

About the Book

If you had the power to change the past, where would you start?

Cassandra Penelope Dankworth likes what she likes, and strongly dislikes what she doesn't. Her life runs in a pleasing, predictable order…until all these things happen on the same day.

She gets dumped.

She gets fired from her PR job for not being a 'People Person.’

Her local café runs out of her favorite muffins.

Then, something truly unexpected happens: Cassie discovers she can travel back in time and change the past.

She decides to use this newfound ability to change all the broken parts of her life. Get undumped, unfired. And with time on her side, how hard can it be?

About the Author

Holly Smale is the internationally bestselling, award-winning author of the Geek Girl (soon to be a Netflix series) and The Valentines teen series, which have sold 3.4 million copies worldwide. In January 2021, Holly was diagnosed autistic at the age of 39. Suddenly a lot of things made sense. Holly regularly shares, debates about, and celebrates neurodiversity on Twitter and Instagram @holsmale. Cassandra in Reverse is her adult debut and was named A Reese’s Book Club Pick, an Amazon Editors’ Top Pick of the Month, and a June Must Listen on Apple.


Excerpted from CASSANDRA IN REVERSE. Copyright © 2023 by Holly Smale. Published by MIRA, an imprint of HarperCollins.


It’s a lie, the first page of a book, because it masquerades as a beginning. A real beginning—the opening of something—when what you’re being offered is an arbitrary line in the sand. This story starts here. Pick a random event. Ignore whatever came before it or catch up later. Pretend the world stops when the book closes, or that a resolution isn’t simply another random moment on a curated timeline.

But life isn’t like that, so books are dishonest.

Maybe that’s why humans like them.

And it’s saying that kind of shit that gets me thrown out of the Fentiman Road Book Club.

Here are some other things I’ve been asked not to return to:

The Blenheim Road Readers Group

A large flat-share I briefly attempted in Walthamstow

My last relationship

My current job

The final two have been in quick succession. This morning, Will—my boyfriend of four months—kissed me, listed my virtues out of nowhere and concluded the pep talk by ending our relationship.

The job situation I found out about eighty seconds ago.

According to the flexing jaw and flared nostrils of my boss, I’ve yet to respond to this new information. He seems faint and muted, as if he’s behind a pane of thick frosted glass. He also has a dried oat on his shirt collar but now doesn’t seem the right time to point it out: he’s married—his wife can do it later.

“Cassie,” he says more loudly. “Did you hear me?”

Obviously I heard him or I’d still be giving a detailed report on the client meeting I just had, which is exactly what I was doing when he fired me.

“The issue isn’t so much your work performance,” he plows on gallantly. “Although, Christ knows, somebody who hates phone calls as much as you do shouldn’t be working in public relations.”

I nod: that’s an accurate assessment.

“It’s your general demeanor I can’t have in this office. You are rude. Insubordinate. Arrogant, frankly. You are not a team player, and do you know what this office needs?”

“A better coffee machine.”

“That’s exactly the kind of bullshit I’m talking about.”

I’d tell you my boss’s name and give him a brief description, but judging by this conversation, he isn’t going to be a prominent character for much longer.

“I’ve spoken to you about this on multiple occasions— Cassandra, look at me when I’m talking to you. Our highest-paying client just dropped us because of your quote, unquote relentlessly grating behavior. You are unlikable. That’s the exact word they used. Unlikable. Public relations is a People Job. For People People.”

Now, just hang on a minute.

“I’m a person,” I object, lifting my chin and doing my best to stare directly into his pupils. “And, as far as I’m aware, being likable is irrelevant to my job description. It’s certainly not in my contract, because I’ve checked.”

My boss’s nostrils flare into horsiness.

I rarely understand what another human is thinking, but I frequently feel it: a wave of emotion that pours out of them into me, like a teapot into a cup. While it fills me up, I have to work out what the hell it is, where it came from and what I’m supposed to do to stop it spilling everywhere.

Rage that doesn’t feel like mine pulses through me: dark purple and red.

His colors are an invasion and I do not like it.

“Look,” my boss concludes with a patient sigh that is nothing like the emotion bolting out of him. “This just isn’t working out, Cassie, and on some level you must already know that. Maybe you should find something that is better suited to your…specific skill set.”

That’s essentially what Will told me this morning too. I don’t know why they’re both under the impression I must have seen the end coming when I very much did not.

“Your job has the word relations in it,” my boss clarifies helpfully. “Perhaps you could find one that doesn’t?”

Standing up, I clear my throat and look at my watch: it’s not even Wednesday lunchtime yet.

Relationship: over.

Job: over.

“Well,” I say calmly. “Fuck.”

So that’s where my story starts.

It could have started anywhere: I just had to pick a moment. It could have been waking up this morning to the sound of my flatmates screaming at each other, or eating my breakfast (porridge and banana, always), or making an elaborate gift for my first anniversary with Will (slightly preemptive).

It could have been the moment just before I met him, which would have been a more positive beginning. It could have been the day my parents died in a car accident, which would have been considerably less so.

But I chose here: kind of in the middle.

Thirty-one years into my story and a long time after the dramatic end of some others. Packing a cardboard box with very little, because it transpires the only thing on my desk that doesn’t belong to the agency is a gifted coffee mug with a picture of a cartoon deer on it. I put it in the box anyway. There’s no real way of knowing what’s going to happen next, but I assume there will still be caffeine.

“Oh shit!” My colleague Sophie leans across our desks as I stick a wilting plant under my arm just to look like I’m not leaving another year of my life behind with literally nothing to show for it. “They haven’t fired you? That’s awful. I’m sure we will all miss you so much.”

I genuinely have no idea if she means this or not. If she does, it’s certainly unexpected: we’ve been sitting opposite each other since I got here and all I really know about her is that she’s twenty-two years old and likes tuna sandwiches, typing aggressively and picking her nose as if none of us have peripheral vision.

“Will you?” I ask, genuinely curious. “Why?”

Sophie opens her mouth, shuts it again and goes back to smashing her keyboard as if she’s playing whack-a-mole with her fingertips.

“Cassandra!” My boss appears in the doorway just as I start cleaning down my keyboard with one of my little antiseptic wipes. “What the hell are you doing? I didn’t mean leave right now. Jesus on a yellow bicycle, what is wrong with you? I’d prefer you to work out your notice period, please.”

“Oh.” I look down at the box and my plant. I’ve packed now. “No, thank you.”

Finished with cleaning, I sling my handbag over my shoulder and my coat over my arm, hold the box against my stomach, awkwardly hook the plant in the crook of my elbow and try to get the agency door open on my own. Then I hold it open with my knee while I look back, even though—much like Orpheus at the border of the Underworld—I know I shouldn’t.

The office has never been this quiet.

Heads are conscientiously turned away from me, as if I’m a sudden bright light. There’s a light patter of keyboards like pigeons walking on a roof (punctuated by the violent death stabs of Sophie), the radiator by the window is gurgling, the reception is blindingly gold-leafed and the watercooler drips. If I’m looking for something good to come out of today—and I think I probably should—it’s that I won’t have to hear that every second for the rest of my working life.

It’s a productivity triumph. They should fire people for fundamental personality flaws more often.

The door slams behind me and I jump even though I’m the one who slammed it. Then my phone beeps, so I balance everything precariously on one knee and fumble for it. I try to avoid having unread notifications if I can. They make my bag feel heavy.

Dankworth please clean your shit up

I frown as I reply:

Which shit in particular

There’s another beep.

Very funny. Keep the kitchen clear

It is a COmmUNAL SPaCE.

It wasn’t funny a couple of weeks ago when I came down for a glass of water in the middle of the night and found Sal and Derek having sex against the fridge.

Although perhaps that is the definition of communal.

Still frowning, I hit the button for the lift and mentally scour the flat for what I’ve done wrong this time. I forgot to wash my porridge bowl and spoon. There’s also my favorite yellow scarf on the floor and a purple jumper over the arm of the sofa. This is my sixth flat-share in ten years and I’m starting to feel like a snail: carrying my belongings around with me so I leave no visible trace.

I send back:


My intestines are rapidly liquidizing, my cheeks are hot and a bright pink rash I can’t see is forming across my chest. Dull pain wraps itself around my neck, like a scarf pulled tight.

It’s fascinating how emotions can tie your life together.

One minute you’re twelve, standing in the middle of a playground while people fight over who doesn’t get you as a teammate. The next you’re in your thirties, single and standing by the lifts of an office you’ve just been fired from because nobody wants you as a teammate. Same sensations, different body. Literally: my cells have cunningly replaced themselves at least twice in the interim.

The office door swings open. “Cassandra?”

Ronald has worn the same thing—a navy cashmere jumper—every day since he started working here a few months ago. It smells really lovely, so I’m guessing there must be plural.

He walks toward me and I immediately panic. Now and then I’ve caught him looking at me from the neighboring desk with an incalculable expression on his face, and I have no idea what it could be. Lust? Repulsion? I’ve been scripting a response to the former for a month now, just in case.

I am honored by your romantic and/or sexual interest in me given that we’ve only exchanged perfunctory greetings, but I have a long-term boyfriend I am almost definitely in the process of falling in love with.

Well, that excuse isn’t going to work anymore, is it.

Ronald clears his throat and runs a large hand over his buzz-cut Afro. “That’s mine.”

“Who?” I blink, disoriented by the grammar. “Me?”

“The plant.” He points at the shrubbery now clutched under my sweaty armpit. “It’s mine and I’d like to keep it.”

Ah, the sweet, giddy flush of humiliation is now complete.

“Of course,” I say stiffly. “Sorry, Ronald.”

Ronald blinks and reaches out a hand; I move quickly away so his fingers won’t touch mine, nearly dropping the pot in the process. It’s the same fun little dance I do when I have to pay with cash at the supermarket checkout, which is why I always carry cards.

I get into the lift and press the button. Ronald now appears to be casually assessing me as if I’m a half-ripe avocado, so I stare at the floor until he reaches a conclusion.

“Bye,” he says finally.

“Bye,” I say as the lift doors slide shut.

And that’s how my story starts.

With a novelty mug in a box, a full character assassination and the realization that when I leave a building I am missed considerably less than a half-dead rubber plant.

Buy Links

HarperCollins: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/cassandra-in-reverse-holly-smale?variant=40900522541090
BookShop.org: https://bookshop.org/p/books/the-cassandra-complex-holly-smale/18745506?ean=9780778334538
Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Cassandra-Reverse/Holly-Smale/9780778334538?id=8859746613976#
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cassandra-in-reverse-holly-smale/1143332733?ean=9780778334538
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cassandra-Reverse-Novel-Holly-Smale/dp/0778334538/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Social Links

Author Website: https://www.hollysmale.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/holsmale
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/holsmale/
GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5824402.Holly_Smale

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