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‘Oona Out of Order’ Tries to Make Sense of Life

4 Stars

Cover art for "Oona Out of Order."
Cover art for "Oona Out of Order." By Courtesy of Flatiron Books
By Caroline E. Tew, Crimson Staff Writer

“Most people’s lives are novels, but yours is a series of short stories” — or at least that’s how it seems for Oona Lockhart, the narrator of Margarita Montimore’s second novel “Oona Out of Order.” On New Year’s Eve, 1982 — which is also the day before Oona’s 19th birthday — Oona discovers something unimaginable. When the clock strikes midnight and the new year begins, instead of turning one year older she is catapulted into a different time, destined to live her life out of order. Although the premise seems gimmicky, “Oona Out of Order” is a delightful read full of surprises and thoughtful retrospection on the past four decades.

After her first leap, Oona is 19 at heart but 51 in body. All she has to go on is a note that 50-year-old (in body) Oona has left for her. It’s a bit on the nose, as a way to explain the situation, but the exposé also sets out an important rule: Although Oona could easily Google or ask about the fate of her friends, it’s best not to. In Oona’s letter to herself, she writes, “I won’t be able to protect you from all the bad surprises, but I don’t want to ruin the good ones for you, either.” For the first half of the book it’s easy to forget this rule — Oona herself does so many times — and scream in frustration that Oona didn’t listen to the warnings of her past, or future, selves. But the book holds true to the message of the older, wiser Oona: What’s the fun in life if you already know what’s going to happen?

With time travel comes various issues — Is it a multiverse? Can the past be changed? — but the novel eventually addresses these problems. Oona herself tries several times to change her past. It often doesn’t seem to work, but it’s refreshing to witness Oona and her mother, who is aware of Oona’s situation, try to figure out if time can be rewritten — and if so, what should be rewritten. Instead of providing a quick scientific answer, learning the rules of time travel proves to be a lesson on how to best live one’s life.

Above all, “Oona Out of Order” is simply fun to read. There are exciting twists coupled with reveals the reader knows are coming. There’s also something liberating about truly not knowing where the story will go next: Will she be 50 or 25? What year is it? At the beginning of each year, the reader learns about Oona’s current life along with Oona herself. It’s fascinating watching her learn to navigate Google, then be catapulted back into the early ‘90s. But at the heart of this story lie the deep human connections Oona forges despite her strange lifestyle. These relationships, with their ups and downs, are what will keep readers on the edge of their seat.

The novel has a few shortcomings, though these often get lost in the sheer enjoyment of the story. Given the premise of the novel, entire months of Oona’s life are often glossed over. The novel is told in yearly chunks for clarity, but sometimes entire months are reduced to sentences (“By June…. By July…”) that culminate into a laundry list of semi-important facts. And while the book’s dedication to reimagining different periods in time is admirable, the slang peppered throughout the dialogue will sometimes elicit a cringe. Ironically, perhaps the most cringe-worthy section for this is Oona’s 2015 year, where her younger assistant, Kenzie, uses phrases like “Hashtag truth,” which Oona inevitably also picks up.

“Oona Out of Order” is equal parts a light-hearted romp through the last 40 years and a thoughtful look at what makes life worth living. Sure, it relies pretty heavily on bizarre, unexplainable phenomena, but as older Oona might say, “It be like that sometimes.”

—Staff writer Caroline E. Tew can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @caroline_tew.

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