I love novels about parallel universes and alternate dimensions, so when I heard about Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Maybe in another life, I knew it was a book I had to read. There are quite a few novels that explore this topic but nearly everyone does it in a very different way (I’m thinking about Claudia Gray’s Firebird-trilogy, for example). Jenkins Reid’s novel isn’t a sci-fi story, though, but rather a chick-lit book. It’s not my favorite genre but I figured that the parallel universe storyline would be interesting enough. It turned out quite quickly that it wasn’t.
The story is about Hannah, a nearly thirty-year-old woman who just moved back home to L.A after living in different major cities across the U.S for years. Hannah has no job, no apartment, no partner and no idea what to do with her life. She moves in with her best friend, Gabby, and Gabby’s husband Mark. At her welcome back-party, Hannah meets Ethan, her high school boyfriend. When Gabby and Mark is about to leave, Ethan asks Hannah to stay with him. Hannah needs to decide whether to go home with her best friend or her ex. In one universe, she goes with Gabby. In one, she stays with Ethan. How does that choice affect her life?
The back of the novel promises that the two parallel universes “develop into radically different stories.” This is just false advertising but before I get to that, I shall hand out a warning. I’m going to spoil the entire novel now so if you’re interested in reading it but still want to be surprised, leave the review now. If you continue to read, prepare yourself because it won’t be pretty.
Now, let’s start with Hannah since she’s the main character. Hannah is one of the most boring and one-dimensional characters I’ve ever read. She has four traits: she wears her hair in a bun, she has big boobs, she loves cinnamon rolls and she referrers to herself as Hurricane Hannah because she makes rash decisions, never thinks things through and ruins a lot of things. She is, as you can see, a very interesting protagonist. Not. She has obvious unresolved issues with her parents and sister, who moved to London during her time in high school, leaving Hannah to move in with Gabby and her parents. Her relationship with her parents is awful, it was clear that it bothered her even though she didn’t want to acknowledge it and I thought it would be explored in the novel, but it wasn’t. No, the novel focused on more important things like… yes, boys. (Fine, men, it’s an adult novel, not YA… though no one seemed mature in this book, not even the parents).
There are two potential love interests, one in each universe. In one, Hannah stays with Ethan and (surprise!) they get together and fall in love again. In the other, Hannah goes home with Gabby but ends up in a car accident. She spends some time at the hospital, where she meets a nurse named Henry, who she falls in love with. Before moving back to L.A, Hannah had a relationship with a married man and she ended up pregnant with his baby. In universe two, the baby is killed in Hannah’s car accident. In universe one, Hannah decides to keep the baby and raise it by herself. Ethan is not thrilled about the baby and they break about before (you guessed it!) getting back together again when he realizes that he has thought about her for years and can’t live without her. In universe two, Hannah needs to learn to walk again after the accident while also fight with her emotions regarding her nurse, a guy who she can’t date since she’s his patient. After she’s released from the hospital she, of course, meets him out in L.A and the two starts dating. The novel ends in a similar way, Hannah engaged to a guy (Ethan in the first, Henry in the second) and she's pregnant with their baby.
Now, let’s look into what the novel promised, namely two parallel universes that “develop into radically different stories.” The guys are different of course and Hannah does spend time in a hospital in one but not the other. In the first universe, Hannah also gets a dog, which doesn’t happen in the second. But in both universes, Hannah gets a job at Gabby’s father’s practice, in both universes, Hannah decides to become a nurse and in both universes she ends up engaged and pregnant at the same moment in time. The only difference is the guy. So no, the novel doesn’t “develop into radically different stories.” If anything, it’s pretty much the same story but with a different boyfriend. False advertisement, as I said, and not interesting at all.
Moving on, there was so many things that bothered me with this story. Liking cinnamon rolls is not a good character trait and the damn cinnamon rolls were mentioned all the time. Like yeah, I get that you love cinnamon rolls, you don’t have to talk about it every five seconds! Another interesting thing is the fact that Gabby worked with gender and equality or… something (I don't remember exactly what it was but it had something to do with gender-studies). Anyway, Gabby often said that women shouldn’t be valued for their beauty and that they were much more than their looks, that a woman was just as good as a man. However, in the end both Hannah and Gabby’s happiness depends on them finding and marrying men. In both alterative worlds the girls find guys to marry and have children with which is exactly what Gabby says a woman doesn’t need, so why did the author make it that way for both, in both worlds? (In Gabby’s case, her husband Mark cheated on her in both universes and she ended up divorced only to get engaged to the guy she had a crush on in high school). It felt like Jenkins Reid wanted a strong female character that stood up for women’s issues but she also made sure that they got the good guy in the end, and the marriage and the kids and the house, playing right into gender roles. (I mean, you should marry the guy you’re in love with if you want to, I’m just saying that this was a perfect opportunity to explore something different, espescially with all the talk of gender roles and sadly, that didn’t happen).
It also bothered me to no end that Hannah, in universe two, complains so much about being in the hospital and that she's cut off from the outside world... after being in the hospital for a week. A week. She’s just there for a few weeks and she acts like it’s been a lifetime. She also needs to learn to walk again and the doctors tells her that it will hurt yet when she’s trying to stand or walk she never mentions that it hurts, even in her own thoughts. The fact that she doesn’t made me think that she didn’t feel anything, despite the doctors telling her again and again that it would be painful. It seemed like Jenkins Reid thought it was better to describe other, more important, things, like how your teeth feels after brushing them (not joking, it’s in the book) than what Hannah feels when she's learning to walk again. I also had high hopes regarding Hannah getting closer to her family, particularly in this universe since they came to L.A to visit her after the accident. Hannah sends them back to London rather fast, though, and they disappear out of the story again. She talks to them on the phone in universe one, to tell them about the pregnancy, but their relationship is not really explored here either and their problems remain unresolved.
Another disappointment was the guys and the love-story aspect of the novel. Ethan and Henry sounded exactly the same; if I’d read an excerpt with lines from both guys but without their names, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart, they sounded identical when they talked. I also found it strange that Ethan in universe two never fought for Hannah. He admits in universe one that he has been pining for her since high school but in universe two, when she says no to stay at the party with him he chooses to sleep with another woman. He visits Hannah at the hospital once right after the accident and then gives up about her entirely. It made no sense why he would give up so fast, why he wouldn’t even try to fight for her. It a good example of how you could spot Jenkins Reid pulling the strings behind the scene, which happened more than once, sadly.
I finished this book a couple of days ago and when I started writing this review, I had to look up the main character’s name because I’d forgotten it. That’s how bad this novel is. Don’t read it, unless you want to read a novel that doesn’t feel believable at all and that mentions cinnamon rolls all.the.freaking.time. Just read something else, you’ll be thankful that you did.