The “it” in Sometimes It Happens is ambiguous when we first start reading. Is it sex? Romance? Love? As the story unfolds, we realize that “it” purposely has many layers and part of the fun of this novel is peeling back each one to see what lies underneath.
Lauren Barnholdt introduces us to Hannah and the difficult situation she finds herself in on the first day of senior year: After being cheated on by her ex-boyfriend Sebastian at the end of junior year, Hannah found solace over the summer by working with Noah, her best friend Ava’s boyfriend. The issue is that Ava has been away working at a camp all summer, and the night before the first day of school, Hannah and Noah slept together.
At this early point in the story, it would be easy to think that “it” is sex. And if this were just another story about cheating, it might be easy to blame and hate Hannah. But Barnholdt immediately shows us that Hannah is a complex character. She deeply regrets what happened because she knows it will hurt her best friend, yet she also feels connected to Noah. From the first page, we realize that this story is not black and white; shades of gray mark each character.
Alternating chapters switch from the first day of senior year back to the summer. So while we know what happened between Hannah and Noah from very early on in the book, the chapters subtly build suspense as the pages unravel the mystery of how Hannah could come to hurt her best friend.
Anticipation abounds in the chapters focusing on the first day of senior year (which, by the way, is written as the worst school day EVER) because the reader is unsurehow Hannah will react when she runs into Ava or Noah or Sebastian. This heightens the suspense in the summer chapters as we eagerly watch Hannah and Noah slowly building their relationship (despite trying not to). Calling Sometimes it Happens a “page turner” would be the understatement of the year.
As Noah and Hannah unexpectedly connect, we wonder if “it” is romance – the unexpected kind that hits you in the face when you’re least ready for it. Noah and Hannah are at least somewhat self-aware (if often uncommunicative) and realize that they’re falling for each other. But of course, they both want to preserve their relationships with Ava and so take great strides to avoid each other. Ava, however, is not so innocent as we thought. Hannah discovers that Ava repeatedly lied to her, and it’s even hinted that Ava is cheating on Noah at summer camp (as I said, shades of gray!).
As we watch Noah and Hannah fall for each other, we think: Ahh, “it” is clearly love. (For they do ultimately fall hard for each other despite their best efforts not to.) But just as each character is multi-faceted, so too is “it.” “It” encompasses all the craziness that is being in high school and learning to deal with complex emotions and situations. “It” is definitely sex AND romance AND love. But it’s also friendship drama and difficult consequences. “It” is that mistake you made that changed your life forever, but was maybe the best thing you ever did.
You won’t walk away from Sometimes it Happens feeling like you’ve spent a lot of time thinking deeply (it definitely reads more like a beach book), but it nonetheless tackles some tough issues in a bright, quick read.
Blythe Robbins, a Californian living in New York City, is a geeky editor by day. At night, she can be found reading or writing YA fiction.