“There would be bad days, there always would. But she’d collect these good days, each one illuminated, and string them together until they glowed brightly in her memory like Christmas lights in a mirrored room.”Margarita Montimore, Oona Out of Order
I absolutely love when an underrated novel pleasantly surprises me. It captures the feeling of navigating through untrodden terrain and stumbling upon a cave of treasure. I initially had low expectations for Oona Out of Order since it didn’t seem to make a big impression in the reading community. Though the book was named a Good Morning America Book Club Pick, I didn’t see too much buzz about this novel on Bookstagram, BookTok, or other online platforms. This week, I decided to read Margarita Montimore’s second novel with trepidation, fearing that it wouldn’t hold my attention for long. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I finished the book in a matter of days and was eager to read more. Oona Out of Order shows time travel with a unique premise, setting up exciting cliffhangers and page-turners that makes it difficult for readers to put the book down.
When the novel opens, Oona Lockhart is an 18 year-old on the eve of her birthday which happens to fall on New Year’s Day. The year is 1982. She is spending the night partying with her friends and her boyfriend, Dale. When the clock strikes midnight, Oona wakes up feeling disoriented. There is a strange man named Kenzie trying to keep her calm, but when she looks in the mirror she finds, to her dismay, that she is now an old woman. Kenzie explains that Oona has a very unique life, one in which she experiences her life “out of order”. Every year, Oona doesn’t know where she will be or what year she will be living through.
The real success of Oona Out of Order is that it is a gripping page-turner. At the start of the second chapter, she experiences a drastic change, going from 1982 to 2013. As a result, there are so many gaps in her understanding of her own life. As she navigates these shifts in time, she must quickly determine her new friends, boyfriends, and other relationships. Oona’s “leaps” promoted extended cliffhangers that I found really intriguing. Every chapter left me reeling and desperate to read on.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, I noticed that the eponymous character lacked distinct characterization. Oona has such an interesting life trajectory, but I felt that her character was void of a personality. She was described as being sarcastic on a few occasions, but I wanted to see more distinctive features to better understand her personality and physical attributes. Oona’s mother was probably the biggest personality in the novel as she filled the role of a spontaneous and free-spirited parental figure. I would have liked to see actions and dialogue that showed me the characteristics of Oona, her mother, and other characters in order to make me feel like I understood each character.
In addition to the lack of characterization, there should have also been more to differentiate Oona’s surroundings with each year. Descriptive language would have helped to show readers the difference between Oona’s world in 2015 in comparison to her life in the ’80s. There were some nods to the physical changes she experienced, such as the presence and absence of the Twin Towers and the technological advances in each year. I would have loved to see more physical indicators like the evolution of the characters clothing styles, for example, as a way to adapt to the changing years. I like books that are heavy with description, so I can feel like I am physically present in the world of the book. With a story like this, there was ample opportunity to show the juxtaposition in the times and places Oona was living, but the author didn’t always use these shifts in time to her benefit.
Even with these criticisms, I found myself very moved by the end of the story. There are moments of personal loss that really touched me. By creating jumps in time, Oona has to experience death and loss in a disjointed way. In one year, she might learn about the death of someone close to her, but in the following year they might be young again. The author has several quotes throughout the book that I found really poignant, speaking to the constancy of change. Though Oona has limited interactions with some characters, I was surprised by how moved I felt when they were no longer present in her life. In these tenders moments, I felt waves of nostalgia and pangs of grief that took me by surprise.
There are so many stories about time travel, but Montimore took a commonly used trope and made it unique. Though I shared some of my criticisms, I overwhelmingly enjoyed reading this book and would definitely recommend it to friends. I gave this book a 3.5 star rating because of the original premise and fun plot turns. If you like stories with time travel that also pull at your heartstrings, then I think you should try Oona Out Of Order. This novel felt reminiscent of books like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Time Traveler’s Wife and movies like About Time. At the heart of all these stories, there is a beautiful message about making the most of every moment and finding joy in a chaotic, “out of order” life.