Tandem by Anna Jarzab
Digital Audiobook narrated by Amanda Dolan
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on October 8, 2013
Series: Many-Worlds #1
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction
Length: 428 pages or 10 hours, 58 minutes
Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble • Book Depository • IndieBound
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.
I always get sucked in by books promising a fabulous multi-verse. It’s a really complicated theory for a book, where there’s a limited amount of space and a lot of explaining to do. I feel pretty confident in saying that from the scientific, worldbuilding POV, Tandem is the best YA multi-verse I’ve ever read. It’s such a complicated subject to get across and explanations need to justify suspension of disbelief, not just ask for it. I think Anna Jarzab did a really good job in that respect.
Unfortunately, because of the immensity of worldbuilding required – not just one, but two, and the theory of many others – a lot of the book was usurped by this. There were many scenes interjected to explain another possible inconsistency here or there, and it slowed the book down a lot. The presented plot just dragged. Tandem takes place over the course of a week, in which there’s political unrest and a hunt under way for the real princess Julianna, as well as the development of a love triangle… square… something. And honestly, all these things were interesting on their own, but there is a lot going on. With all that taking a back seat to worldbuilding explanations, other things felt underexplained and underdeveloped.
The characters, in particular, suffered from this. We get a pretty good idea about Sasha, because we’re in her head. Thomas, Grant, Julianna… all the other characters with important roles are relatively one-dimensional. Honestly, I get it. There was a lot of explaining to do and it was a bit overwhelming to include everything. There were areas in the worldbuilding I didn’t feel needed to be explained – such as Sasha’s visions, I’d’ve accepted them as an anomaly. And even though we were in Sasha’s head, she was very… pragmatic. She cursed herself for having crushes, but as a reader, I never really felt that bubbliness. I would have enjoyed a little more emotional depth from her.
To be honest? I’m surprised by how much I liked this book. The Many-Worlds series was cancelled by the publisher after low sales and interest in book two… but I feel like Anna Jarzab has a lot to offer. She took a chance and had some original ideas, which can be refreshing in a genre that likes to seize a trend and exploit it. I liked conspiracy, because despite its obviousness, I didn’t have all the details figured out. Her writing voice was easy to read, and the narrator did a great job. It was just the pacing that pulled it down – it was slow, and there’s no getting around that. Justifying the pacing as well as I might, there’s still the fact that it is slow.
As I’m reading this as part of Retelling-a-Thon’s Shakespeare week, it should be mentioned that this popped up on a lot of different lists as a retelling of Twelfth Night. I was pretty hesitant in my readathon announcement of this being an actual retelling.. and I still sort of feel that way. The play features as Sasha’s favorite book. As far as parallels go, the main theme is present: much like Viola has to step into Sebastien’s shoes, so Sasha has to step into Julianna’s. The relationship between Tandem and Twelfth Night is loose. It feels more respectful and inspired by the play than an actual retelling. I don’t think this is quite a proper retelling because there simply aren’t enough similarities.
As a story, if you’re patient enough to deal with the snail’s pace, this is a pretty good book. Certainly there’s the argument of the problematic nature of Thomas/Sasha’s relationship, but honestly this book reads like an adventure. If someone wanted to pull me into an alternate universe where I am a princess, I’m sure I could make it work somehow. I liked it enough that I would read the second book, even though I know the third will never be published. Not one I would push to the very top of my TBR, but I’m nonetheless interested.
Are you interested in parallel universes? My interest with them started with the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but I feel like Rick and Morty has made them more mainstream. Let me know what you think!