I’ve spent my last several books in a very time-conscious state, from One Day in December and Winterwood to the New Year’s setting of The Hunting Party. For my first book of 2021, I decided to continue in a similar vein and read another story all about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day: This Time Next Year, the debut novel by Sophie Cousens.
This is one of those books that wasn’t on my radar until Book of the Month included it as a selection two months ago. Its cute cover and fun synopsis were enough to pull me in, and I’m glad it could be my first book of the new year.
This Time Next Year has its origins in the very first moments of 1990. Two women, Tara Hamilton and Connie Cooper, are about to give birth, and if their baby is the first in London to be born on January 1st, they could win a big cash prize. But in a strange mixup, Tara seems to steal Connie’s baby name: She christens her son Quinn, causing Connie to regretfully change her daughter’s name to Minnie. But Quinn is a lucky name and Minnie is… not. It’s no wonder these two ’90s babies will lead such different lives.
Fast forward to the early morning hours of January 1, 2020. Minnie Cooper and Quinn Hamilton meet for the first time, after 30 years of Minnie hearing woeful stories from her mother. Despite Minnie’s bad luck — especially on her birthday each year — and Quinn’s seeming golden boy status, the two slowly form a bond over the next several months. Is he her “Love Twin”? Or are they simply too different for anything to work out between them?
Throughout (a blissfully Covid-free) 2020, fate brings Minnie and Quinn together in a slow-burn romance enriched by career ambitions, examinations of mental illness, and delicious servings of pie.
I admit, I initially picked this book for potentially superficial reasons. I already mentioned that the cover is adorable. But I also felt drawn to these two protagonists who were born the same year I was: 1990! (My birthday is in May, though, not January.) Luckily, This Time Next Year offered a lot more than that, and it was a joy to read.
Some people may be put off by the main character’s name. How can you take a character named Minnie Cooper seriously? Trust me, this is addressed in the book, and pretty early on. We’re all in on the joke, so no need to be distracted by it. Likewise, no need to be unreasonably upset at Minnie thinking of Quinn as her rival for simply stealing her name (and luck along with it). This isn’t a dramatic nemesis battle book; the characters move on from that pretty quickly. Whatever silly qualms you have based on the description, rest assured that you can ignore them and should give this book a chance.
One theme that I wasn’t expecting — but ended up loving — was how career-focused this book is. Minnie is brilliant at baking pies, and she runs her own business. But the business is floundering, and this ambitious entrepreneur will face bumps in the road on her path to success. I really enjoyed seeing how driven and talented Minnie is, and I relate to both her dissatisfaction in her current professional life and her goals of making her own successful company.
Another unexpected theme that I enjoyed was the close friendship between Minnie and Leila. Their care for one another is so pure, and they really give each other their all. These two are friend soul mates, and we get hints of how that friendship can last for decades to come. Indeed, we see parallels in the budding friendship between Connie and Tara, and between two hairdressers named Clare and Claire, respectively.
If This Time Next Year is equal parts career story and ode to friendship, the final third is, of course, the romance we all expected. But be forewarned, dear reader: You’ll need a bit of patience for these two. Both Minnie and Quinn are already in relationships at the start, and it’ll take months of developing a friendship before they can move on to anything romantic. This is a classic will-they-won’t-they situation, but it’s backed up by valid reasons related to mental illness and how much you give to a loved one.
Indeed, an important theme here is mental illness and trauma. Events in Quinn’s past have affected both him and his mother, and Tara’s agoraphobia has made her dependent on her son. This is a burden on Quinn — though he loves his mom and will do anything for her — but it also compounds on his own unresolved issues. I appreciate that, by the end, both Quinn and Tara are on paths to recovery. This examination of mental illness and its effects on others is done with great care.
In addition to a mental health, we also get a close look at social class. While Quinn comes from a wealthy family, Minnie’s family is solidly working class. Quinn has a high-paying job, whereas Minnie is on the verge of losing her business and her apartment. As someone who also comes from a poorer background, I very much related to Minnie and her quest for financial security. Thankfully, instead of turning Quinn into a financial savior for her, I appreciate that Minnie forges her own path to success, even if it takes a little while.
This Time Next Year benefits from several flashbacks in time to previous New Years, both for Minnie and for Quinn. At first we see how unlucky Minnie really is every year on her birthday, but soon we also see that Quinn’s life hasn’t been so enviable itself. Getting these glimpses into their past really deepens the characters and situates them well in the story. However, we also see just how many times Minnie and Quinn’s paths nearly crossed. I don’t know about you, but for me it really built up the anticipation for them to finally notice each other and get together!
Going into This Time Next Year, I had expected a more straight-forward romcom. However — and perhaps in spite of those weighty subjects I mentioned — the tone is actually more humorous and silly than most romances I’ve read. I’m not English, but this seems to exemplify a certain brand of English humor I’ve started to notice over the years: It’s quirky and obvious, a little sarcastic, even a little corny. The best literary comparison I can make is to The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, though that one ventures much further into comical territory.
On a related note, I will point out two small things that detracted from This Time Next Year a bit. First is the side story with Beverley. While I like the message of fighting for an important cause, Bev’s arc did feel distracting at times and like it could have been condensed. To my mind, its inclusion felt like a result of that quirky humor I mentioned above.
Another thing I noticed was the uneven pacing. Nearly two-thirds of the story takes places in the first month or so of 2020. The final one-third is spread out over the remaining 10 months, making much of the development feel rushed. However, it’s the final few months of autumn that feel the most rushed. I wish we’d had more time to see Minnie find her own success, and to see her and Quinn stilling pining for each other, in the fall of 2020. If there’d been more space for that, the ending would have felt more satisfying. While I liked the ending, it just felt like it needed more room to breathe. At only 330 pages, this book could easily have fit in some more chapters. Readers like me just want more time with Minnie and Quinn!
This Time Next Year is a sweet novel that’s equal parts romance, friendship love, and career success story. Balancing out valuable looks at mental health, we also get our fair share of hunger-inducing food descriptions. (Chefs out there will enjoy the recipes included at the end of the book!) I really enjoyed this novel, and I can’t wait to read more from Sophie Cousens.
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