Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: "In Some Other World, Maybe" by Shari Goldhagen

If life always turned out the way we hoped, the way we planned, the world would be a very different place. And so would literature, movies, theater, and music. Luckily, that doesn't seem to be the case for the characters in Shari Goldhagen's terrifically warm In Some Other World, Maybe, and the reader is better for that fact.

It starts in 1992. The popular Eons & Empires comic book series has been turned into a movie. In three different cities, three different teenagers experience the movie in different ways.

Adam, a popular, talented high school senior from Florida, gets a surprise date with a girl he used to have a crush on when she was in high school. He's hoping for one last connection before he can leave his sleepy town and head to NYU. In Cincinnati, Sharon, who used to read the comic books in secret, skips school to go to the movies during the day, but her infatuation with the movie leads her to make a choice that has the potential for disastrous consequences. And in Chicago, Phoebe is excited to go on her first date with her classmate, Oliver, despite the presence of her two best friends and their dates, as well as her younger brother, who has tagged along with them.

The book follows the paths of these characters through the years, as they achieve successes and confront failures, experience unbridled happiness and are hit by unexpected tragedy, take risks and settle for less than they want and deserve, fall in and out of love, and try to figure out which are the right decisions to make. Their lives intersect and separate, and just like real life, they often don't understand the weight of their decisions and their secrets and their knee-jerk reactions until it's too late.

In Some Other World, Maybe is a book about trying to make your dreams come true and what you do when they don't. It's about the age-old dilemma of whether to follow your head or your heart, and how hard it often is to make the right connections. It's also about the periodic forces that take us back to where we came from, and how fighting our true natures doesn't always work out for us.

I really loved this book. Goldhagen has created such memorable characters which truly resonate, even as they make decisions you might not always agree with. I enjoyed each of their stories, and honestly, could follow each one of them in a story all their own, but the shifting among perspectives made this story an even richer one. She is a terrific storyteller who truly cares about her characters, which is why you do, too.

If I had one tiny criticism, it was the periodic sprinkling in of historical events to set the time period of a particular portion of the story. Some of those felt tremendously pat and unnecessary—it honestly didn't matter when the story took place, because the themes and the issues the characters dealt with were fairly universal and timeless. But this is a minor quibble that didn't detract from how much I enjoyed this book. Really well done.

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