Parallel Universe. The idea that your life in its entirety exists somewhere else in the universe is a hypothetical notion that we have all heard about it. It’s either because you’ve watched it in your favorite anime or because this certain friend of yours cannot stop talking about it… unless you actually study Physics. I belong to the first category. And given my incessant need to know everything, I’ve done my fair share of research. So, imagine my delight when I found out that When You and I Collide by Kate Norris explores the existence of multiverse theory in young adult fiction.
In her debut sci-fi YA novel, Norris exceeds expectations by effortlessly blending science and war with love and loss. With a backdrop of WWII, reliance on science and technology, Norris beautifully tackles heavy issues such as mourning a loved one, dealing with grief, and being treated as a foreigner in a land you’ve always considered home. A concept most of us are a little too familiar with.
As immigrant kids, on one hand, we are encouraged to hold onto our culture and embrace it as our sole identity. But on the other, we are also expected to effortlessly fit into our new surroundings. But there is no such thing as a seamless transition between two cultures. Especially in a society where any kind of difference leads to hurtful scrutiny. And, at most times, these differences cannot be changed.
All the way from little things like accents, language structures, and vocabulary to racist questions like “but where are you really from?” when someone doesn’t look a certain way. An immigrant kid is forced to play a lose-lose battle where the host country does not completely accept you for not being quite like them but at the same time, the people from your very own culture think you are too “western” and “modern” in your approach.
Unfortunately, these kids find out the hard way that life isn’t quite like the Hannah Montana series where we thrive in both of our realities. It’s more like being part of two different worlds, but never quite knowing where exactly you belong.
Kate Norris beautifully explores this everyday identity crisis of an immigrant kid through her main character in a multiverse reality. Winnie Schulde, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, can see splits – a quick moment where two possible outcomes for every scenario can be separated. In a moment’s time, you can see both outcomes and possibly choose the most favorable one. In a world plagued with war and destruction, you can see how this could be the ultimate weapon.
Therefore, to avoid any unwanted attention from the proponents of WWII, Winnie and her father kept this a secret from just about everyone. This included Scott, the incredibly smart, kind, and good-looking lab assistant she was working with, in her father’s lab.
After her mother’s tragic death, Winnie’s unrequired love for Scott was the only thing that kept her going. Her physicist father had become distant after this incident. Always wrapped up in research, he believed that if he pushed Winnie to be better, she would be able to choose one split over another. Perhaps, she could change their past and fix things for the better.
While Winnie did not agree with the methods but for the sake of her father, she played along. Choosing outcomes and time-traveling were merely derivative theories that she did not believe in. Despite that, in every single experiment, Winnie gave her absolute best. But her father was never satisfied.
With this storyline, Norris explores how the grief of losing a loved one changes people. Some people, blinded by grief, tend to withdraw from just about everything. They don’t quite give up but at the same time, they don’t have much to go on either. Therefore, people around them end up overcompensating to make them feel better while being in equal measures of pain. In this context, that’s what Winnie ends up doing, doing whatever it takes to help her father cope with the grief he will never admit to.
However, things change when Scott gets seriously injured from an experiment gone wrong. Merely trying her best was no longer an option for Winnie. With the sole motivation of wanting to help Scott, Winnie is forced to deal with a reality that’s very familiar to her and yet completely different.
In a book that includes annotated research designs and the exact type of apparatuses required for the experiments, Kate Norris expressed that the idea for this story was completely unscientific. Instead, it was a rather simple question: what would it be like to meet the perfect you with all the best-case scenarios?
Therefore, in a reality where we are all constantly striving to be the best versions of ourselves while struggling to cope with the struggles, grief, and challenges, When You and I Collide makes us realize that it’s actually this hurt and pain that makes us who we are.
With interesting settings and relatable characters, this book makes you reflect back on your life and wonder: if you could have it all, what would you be willing to give up?
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