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Cassandra in Reverse: Summary and Ending Explained

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Note: the following discussion guide contains spoilers, as well as references to critical plot points and the conclusion of Cassandra in Reverse by Holly Smale.

In 2023, Holly Smale released her debut novel for adults, titled Cassandra in Reverse in the US and The Cassandra Complex in the UK.

This marked a significant moment in Smale’s life as she was diagnosed with autism at the age of 39, prompting her to become an advocate for neurodiversity representation.

The protagonist of this novel, Cassandra Penelope Dankworth, shares a similar journey. She realizes her likely autism diagnosis at 31, towards the end of the novel.

Cassandra in Reverse by Holly Smale

The book falls into the genre of contemporary magical realism, where the protagonist gains the ability to rewind time. Unlike typical time-travel stories, Cassie primarily uses this power for mundane tasks like fixing daily mistakes and avoiding social blunders.

In this guide we will go through the complete summary and ending explanation for Cassandra in Reverse by Holly Smale.

Have a wonderful book club discussion! ✨

Summary | Ending Explained | Book Club Questions

Cassandra in Reverse Summary

The story kicks off with Cassandra Penelope Dankworth getting fired from her PR job, compounded by a breakup with her boyfriend, Will.

Distraught, Cassie’s day goes from bad to worse as she discovers her favorite café lacks her beloved banana muffins, and she unwittingly joins an anti-fur protest. After experiencing a blackout, she returns home to her flat where tensions simmer with her roommates Sal and Derek due to a previous misunderstanding.

To her surprise, Will reappears for their date as if nothing happened, only to break up with her again the next day. Suspecting a time loop, Cassie experiments with altering events, confirming her ability to change outcomes by not returning a plant to her colleague Ron, thus hinting at the possibility of fixing things.

Cassie, determined to master her newfound ability to control time, repeatedly returns to the bar’s doorway to practice. Still haunted by the tragic loss of her parents in a car accident and the resulting rift with her sister, Artemis, Cassie resolves to pinpoint where her life diverged.

To her surprise, she realizes she’s traveled back four months to the day she met Will. Despite numerous attempts, Cassie finds this as far back as she can go and resolves to salvage her relationship with Will, mend her strained living situation, and secure her job.

She struggles to initiate conversation with Will during their first encounter, rewinding time multiple times before managing to engage him. Cassie’s primary objectives become clear: saving her relationship, resolving her roommate conflict, and stabilizing her job. Despite her efforts to steer her work dealings in a positive direction, she can’t prevent a looming marketing catastrophe.

Cassie’s second date with Will proves more promising as she adeptly corrects any missteps. Taking an impromptu day off, she enjoys a visit to the British Museum but is dismayed to encounter Artemis. Desperate to avoid her sister’s presence, Cassie repeatedly attends office brainstorming sessions to prevent her dismissal, forming an unexpected bond with a previously irksome colleague, Sophie.

Venturing to her hometown of Cambridge with Will, Cassie experiences a surprising sense of belonging instead of the expected grief. Despite encountering challenges during the date, Cassie finds satisfaction in its eventual outcome. Returning home, she encounters Artemis once more, ultimately succumbing to Will’s invitation to his place. Though their initial intimacy is awkward, Cassie persistently rewinds time to improve their experience.

As Cassie navigates her tumultuous personal and professional life, she faces recurring challenges from Derek’s persistent advances, which she initially sidesteps through time manipulation. However, despite her growing unease with his behavior, doubts about herself linger, particularly concerning a potential repeat of past misunderstandings with Sal.

At work, Cassie finds solace in Sophie’s thoughtful gesture of assisting with phone calls for the SharkSkin campaign, recognizing her own struggles with such tasks. A photography exhibition outing with Will turns tense when Cassie encounters Artemis, who presents herself as “Diana,” their supposed former flatmate. Their argument reveals their contrasting perspectives on life, yet their exact relationship remains shrouded in mystery.

When Will abruptly ends their relationship, citing another love interest, Cassie’s world crumbles. A revelation at a work gala unveils Artemis’s involvement in the breakup, leading to a heartfelt reconciliation between the sisters. Despite swearing off time travel, Cassie employs her ability to delay confronting the newfound connection between Will and Artemis, ultimately realizing their compatibility.

Returning from a rejuvenating holiday, Cassie faces Derek’s advances once more but now confidently rebuffs him with Sal’s support. At the SharkSkin gala, she bonds with Cameron, discovering shared traits and ultimately decides to quit her job, acknowledging her dissatisfaction with it.

Outside the gala, Artemis confronts Cassie about unresolved issues from their parents’ funeral. The narrative delves into the past, revealing a heated altercation where a drunken Artemis blames Cassie for their parents’ fatal car accident, branding her a monster.

In the present, both sisters reconcile, with Cassie questioning Artemis’s sudden persistence in seeking her out. Artemis discloses a shocking revelation found in their mother’s files—a diagnosis of autism for both their mother and Cassie. This newfound understanding brings relief to Cassie, despite initial skepticism about her lack of awareness.

With plans to study Classics at Cambridge, Cassie gathers with her friends for a farewell party. However, when Will unexpectedly arrives, Cassie realizes she never disclosed their relationship to Artemis or Will’s connection to her sister. As tensions rise, Will leaves upon discovering the familial link.

Cassie contemplates time travel once more, but Artemis pleads with her to reconsider. Confident in her ability to mend relationships and rectify past mistakes with newfound knowledge, Cassie prepares to rewrite her history, ensuring she never dates Will. The novel concludes with Cassie closing her eyes, ready to embark on another journey through time.

Cassandra in Reverse Ending Explained

So, what happens at the end of Cassandra in Reverse?

In the final chapters of the novel, Cassie’s journey takes a profound turn as she refrains from altering recent events, allowing herself to embrace her neurodiversity and reconcile with her distant past.

It’s noteworthy that Cassie’s reconciliation with Artemis occurs without the aid of time travel, underscoring the significance of self-acceptance in fostering human connection. Rather than relying on magical fixes for social interactions, Cassie learns that genuine connection arises from organic, non-magical processes.

Smale cleverly highlights this irony through Cassie’s self-awareness, recognizing that her inability to travel back to the moment of her life-altering event stems from a part of herself being “stuck” there all along.

By emphasizing the importance of self-acceptance, Smale subverts the traditional time loop trope, revealing that Cassie’s true narrative to escape from isn’t one of magic or time travel but rather her estrangement from her sister.

The moment when Cassie rewinds her watch in the pub underscores the notion that “There’s more than one way to time travel,” reinforcing the link between time manipulation and self-acceptance.

Throughout the novel, Cassie’s attempts to undo herself through time travel yield less success than her efforts to form genuine connections with others. This shows the central theme that genuine human connection transcends magical interventions and is rooted in self-awareness and acceptance.

Smale underscores the complexity and significance of human connection throughout the novel, highlighting unexpected bonds that contrast with Cassie’s initial assumptions.

Initially torn between Will, whom she believes she should be with, and Artemis, whom she has distanced herself from, Cassie’s journey unfolds to reveal connections with unexpected characters.

Sophie and Sal emerge as prime examples of this phenomenon. Initially acquaintances, Cassie’s repeated interactions with them allow for genuine connections to form. Both women extend significant kindness towards Cassie, fostering a sense of openness and closeness. Smale emphasizes the fallacy of preconceived notions about who holds importance in one’s life.

Cassie’s character arc centers on her journey towards self-trust and acceptance. Declaring she’s done with diminishing herself, Cassie embarks on changes aimed at improving her life, such as pursuing studies in classics at Cambridge. Drawing from Greek mythology, Cassie identifies with Cassandra, recognizing her inherent power to shape her future.

The novel’s conclusion, with Cassie poised to revisit the beginning, symbolizes her newfound realization of agency in her life. Contrary to previous cycles of self-erasure, Smale suggests that Cassie has gleaned enough self-awareness and understanding of her relationships to carry her growth forward, reinforcing the theme of inevitability versus the ability to shape one’s fate.

How did you like the ending of the novel? Happy reading! ❤️