If Nothing's Changing, You're Not Living

This Time Next Year: A Novel

Bad luck happens to those who believe in it.

Minnie Cooper (yes, her actual name) is unlucky and has been since she was born, a few minutes too late to qualify for a big cash prize given to the first New Year baby born in a London hospital. The honor instead went to Quinn Hamilton, a boy who was also given her intended name. Minnie has always known of Quinn, but it’s not until their thirteenth birthday when the two properly meet and Minnie discovers fortune has continued to favor him. However, as they repeatedly bump into one another, Minnie also feels an unexpected connection to Quinn, one that might be enough to turn her luck around.

This Time Next Year. By Sophie Cousens. Putnam. 2020. Hardcover.

How did I get the book?

This was a Book of the Month pick from November. Although being a member of this program isn’t helping me declutter my bookshelf, it has brought some interesting titles into my life, especially when it comes to holiday reading picks.

You can purchase the book for yourself here and support independent bookstores!

What did I think?

Minnie’s unluckiness has been the refrain of her life, whether it comes in the form of particularly cruel middle school bullies, or fleas from a stray dog that cozies up to her leg, or getting a vibrator confiscated from her luggage. Most recently, it’s culminated in her losing her business and her flat in the course of a week. It’s made Minnie wonder, as she again moves back in with her parents, “Was this the pattern she was condemned to: Move out, try and make a go of a new job, fail, move home, and start all over again?” The loss of major elements of her life also leads Minnie to question how she can even define herself without a job or a relationship. She’s undergoing severe, belated growing pains, “the young excitable owls inside her aging into wise old birds,” as Minnie puts it. But even with their elderly spectacles and unflapping wings, the metaphorical birds inside Minnie remain hesitant in making decisions, plagued by three decades of mishaps.

Enter Quinn. He has a stable, sensible job and stereotypically good looks, so Minnie automatically assumes he must have it much easier than she does. “He seemed so comfortable in his own skin,” Minnie finds, something she rarely experiences herself. Plus, she’s been conditioned not to like him, given how her mother regularly retells the story of his mother, the woman who stole her baby name after Minnie’s mother coached her in their shared maternity hospital room. Fear not, for Quinn has his own issues. He might have grown up in a pretty blue house in Primrose Hill, but the family life inside was far from perfect, or even happy. It’s subsequently made Quinn unable to form deep, emotional connections. “What kind of psychopath would actively choose to go out with women who possessed traits he disliked?” he asks himself, reflecting on his past relationships. Alas, then he meets Minnie…

You can probably see where this is going. Quinn’s demeanor and body language are like sinking into a beloved armchair for Minnie. He puts his arm around her not long after meeting and it’s somehow an “instinctive, familiar gesture” despite the fact they're basically strangers. He laughs and it lulls “people into an unearned familiarity….[making] Minnie feel as though she was drinking hot wine by a log fire wrapped in Nordic furs. Not that she'd ever done this, but she imagined it would be a very enjoyable thing to do.” He becomes the person she thinks of first in the morning, the person she would like to do anything with, the person who makes her smile so much her face gets tired. And yet, Minnie remains unsure, wondering if she needs someone like her mother says who is “cut from the same cloth,” or if her ex-boyfriend Greg was correct in saying someone only needs to be seventy-percent good in order for love to work. “Life can't just be about coupling up like yogurts in a multi-pack,” Minnie tells herself as she still cannot shake feelings for Quinn. “There's got to be more to it, right?” But should she risk getting herself hurt in pursuing an emotionally unavailable Quinn? In the words of her best friend Leila, “If he's still in your head, it's worth taking the risk. You never know just how perfect it might turn out to be.”

Final Verdict?

🌟 2.5/5 — Average

The predictability of the plot, much like my last book review, was to be expected, but what I can’t forgive is weak editing. There are a number of words overly repeated in the prose (i.e. people are constantly “striding” across rooms) and also a lack of Britishisms given the characters are Londoners, which perhaps were removed in the U.S. edition but certainly wrongfully so. There were also what felt like placeholder moments throughout where we are told Minnie and Quinn are having a good conversation but don’t hear much of it. This felt far more important than some of the odd things we are told, like one of Minnie’s employees at her failing pie shop who can’t tell if her good mood is thanks to attending a climate protest or her anti-depressant medication, or Minnie’s ex-boyfriend finding his purpose in writing a Jennifer Aniston biography. I’m all for absurdity, but not when it starts feeling like clutter.

Where I will praise the novel, however, is in its subtle yet complex depiction of Minnie’s anxiety, describing her “crushing feeling of inadequacy” that frequently comes over her in waves and comparing her life to having “too much icing on a cake—it's covering over a crumby base that's cracked down the middle.” As Minnie convinces herself that she needs to keep Quinn at an arm’s length because she can’t believe he would actually like her, readers want to respond just as her friend Leila does: “Minnie, with all this self-sabotaging behavior, you're ruining the fun of living vicariously through you.” But Cousens also eventually allows Minnie to try to find the root of her anxiety: that she isn’t sure she knows who she is, that she can’t get through the barrage of questions in her head about it and allow herself to just be, even though she finds brief moments of peace with Quinn. With him, “she felt relaxed and fun, interesting and interested—it was the version of herself she most enjoyed being.” Cutesy moments aside, a character understanding the importance of this is what can give a fun rom-com a little meat on its bones.

Beyond the book.

As much as this novel found me rolling my eyes and reaching to put another shot of spiced rum in my hot cocoa, it’s become a New York Times bestseller since it published this summer. It was also chosen for the Good Morning America book club where Cousens was interviewed about how she made the switch from television producer to writer and also what inspired the romance. She also says who would be the best celebrities to cast in as the leads.

Cousens is also now at work on her second book, and shared with ArtHouse Jersey her tips for anyone in quarantine thinking of writing a novel. She also reflects on how this novel offers a very different version of 2020 than what we’ve actually seen (which might be in part why so many are finding it the perfect escape).

See you again soon!

Rachel x