On The Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher, published July 2016 by Little Brown and Company.
Read: July 2016
Genre: Contemporary/Historical/Magical Realism/Romance
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: Evie Snow is 82 when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It’s the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she’s become her 27 year old self and the door won’t open.
Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over 50 years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow , some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love…
*WARNING* – Minor Spoilers Ahead
So many thoughts and so much to say about this one! First of all, anyone who follows my blog will know I’m not a massive fan of magical realism. I prefer all things fantastical to remain in a fantasy world. That being said, I could accept the magical realism elements in this story – to a degree. With a title like “On The Other Side”, and with a blurb that clearly talks about personal heavens, I was prepared for magical realism to be a part of this story. However, at certain points the magical realism crosses over from the fantastical side of the story, to the realistic, and that’s where my wee brain draws a line! There’s one scene in particular that I felt was influenced by the TV show Once Upon A Time, and upon reflection, there is quite a fairytale-esque feel to the novel.
It has to be said, even with my general avoidance of magical realism, I really enjoyed this book and the story. This could be because I am slightly biased towards Carrie, having been subscribed to her YouTube channel, for around 3 years or so now (this is a guess as YouTube doesn’t seem to tell you when you subscribed to someone, which is annoying!), or it could be because aside from the magical realism elements, the story itself, the characters, and the writing were actually very entertaining, heartfelt, and emotive.
Many of the characters in Carrie’s novel resemble her and her real-life chums. Evie herself is described as having brown eyes, and blonde curly hair (and definitely has Carrie’s dress sense), and Vincent sounds like he could pass for Pete Bucknall, Carrie’s real-life boyfriend (irrelevant point to note, those two are so my OTP – adorbs. Like I want to spend the day with them in the pub). At times I was both distracted by the fact I was seeing Carrie and Pete in my head as the characters (oddly, Carrie more so than Pete), and at times I really enjoyed it.
Originally, I wasn’t intending to pick this book up, but I was browsing in Waterstones, spotted it on display and knew that I HAD to have that cover in my life. Pictures do not do this book justice – the dust jacket, end papers, and the naked book are all superb. I’ve seen many people try to categorise this novel, both by genre and for age range, and it’s actually quite difficult to do. For genre, I would say it’s contemporary romance, with magical realism, though there are many other themes that are briefly touched on, such as LGBT. For suitable age range, I would say it’s aimed at adults (18+), but has been cleverly written to be suitable for mature younger readers too (a lot of Carrie’s following are teens). I didn’t feel there was anything “inappropriate” in the story, but younger readers may not fully understand or appreciate the significance of themes such as love and death.
While I genuinely enjoyed the story overall, there were a couple of minor issues I had with the read. First of all, no time reference is given in the novel. I’ve classed this book as both contemporary and historical because there are two distinguishable timelines, but at no time are either of these given a point of reference. This was interesting because for readers from any generation, they should essentially be able to relate to the story and characters more easily. However, for certain elements of the story (the practice of arranged marriages, the response to LGBT characters, etc.) the time period plays a crucial role in setting the scene. Time-frame gives a story context, and without that anchor, there were times when I got a little confused. The story has Evie at both 27 and 82, with a 55 year gap in the story-line. Is Evie 82 in 2016, and 27 in 1934? Or is Evie 27 in 2016, and 82 in 2071? Who knows?? I did find this a little off-putting, as it seemed both modern and historical societal views and practices were melded. But, of course, this is the literal side of me. If you consider the magical realism and fairytale-esque elements, is time-frame really necessary? Probably not.
A small issue I had with this novel was the lack of discussion surrounding LGBT characters. At least three characters were LGBT in this story, and with two of the characters their sexuality is simply mentioned and then the story moves on. Carrie has said that she did this intentionally, so as to not make a big deal out of it. You don’t discuss a character’s straight-ness, do you? Touche, and valid point. But I felt LGBT characters were intentionally included in this novel, and it was possibly a great opportunity missed, especially with the size of Carrie’s audience, and as one of the characters is bisexual, and in a relationship with a woman, and I’m sure there are conversations to be had there! However, she isn’t exactly a spokesperson for the LGBT community, and I can appreciate her stance on wanting to normalise LGBT characters in stories, as opposed to making something out of it.
Finally, the last part of the story I had a problem with (I say problem, but the fact I’ve given this book so much consideration, and have written a lengthy review on it, means it genuinely left a mark on me, and I care enough to delve into a critique!) was poor Jim! Such a sweet, adorable and lovable character seems to always get the short end of the stick throughout his entire life, and now it looks as though he’ll be getting it throughout the afterlife as well! As much as I enjoyed the romance, and my heart broke for Evie and Vincent, what about Jim?! I felt for him by the end of the novel, and to an extent it tainted the happiness I should have been feeling due to the emotional resolution.
With some of the “drama” that surrounds YouTuber book deals (Do they deserve book deals? Did they write the book themselves? Is it even any good? Etc.), I’m pleased to say that I’ve seen minimal negative conversation about Carrie’s book, and from the little research that I’ve done, it does appear that she writes her own books. I think anyone who watches Carrie’s YouTube videos will be able to see this as her tone is consistent – you can practically hear her reading the story out loud in your head. Aside from that, for dedicated Hopefuls there are little Easter Eggs (of sorts) peppered throughout the story that are really heartwarming to read.
“I think about it all the time, about what makes everyone who they are, and if we went back in time and changed anything, whether or not it would make a difference. Would it make us better or worse, or would we just stay exactly the same because we were always destined to end up this way no matter what happened throughout our lives?”
“You were my single greatest adventure.”
Have you read On The Other Side? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!