By My Side by Alice Peterson

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By My Side by Alice Peterson

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Often moving, though sometimes a little overtly educational, this is a thought-provoking story of a young woman coming to terms with living in a wheelchair.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 376 Date: July 2013
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781782061816

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Cass is a medical student - she loves her work, and she also loves her boyfriend Sean. Tired, hung over and rather distracted, she walks into the street without noticing a fast-moving lorry coming her way... and her life is forever changed.

It's a dramatic start to a book which is extremely well-written and quite thought-provoking. Cass suffers a spinal cord injury, meaning that she will never walk again. She goes to live with her parents, her relationship with Sean at an end. She feels that her lifetime dream of becoming a doctor is destroyed by a moment's carelessness. Told that she is lucky to be alive, and to have the use of the top half of her body, she sinks into depression as she attempts to come to terms with what has happened.

Cass has wise and caring parents, who help her find a companion dog. Ticket has been trained to do all kinds of things that Cass is no longer able to do on her own, and his loyalty and love bring a spark back to her life. Slowly, with a lot of support, Cass not only finds a purpose in life, but starts to fall for the hunky ski instructor Charlie… only to find that he has a lively and really quite charming girlfriend.

It's a story of friendships, of coming to terms with a horrendous situation, and also a growing romance. Alice Peterson writes with authority about being disabled, something she is well equipped to do. She was struck with a debilitating disease in her late teens, destroying her hopes of being a world class tennis player. While my personal experience of immobility is limited to a couple of broken toes, I could easily relate to Cass's frustration and misery, both at the start of her wheelchair-bound life, and also later on when she experiences rejection and feels almost invisible at times.

There are many other likeable characters in the book, although inevitably some of them felt a little two-dimensional. Still, their names and personalities were distinct enough that I mostly remembered who was who, and when I didn't, it was not really relevant. The only ones I had a hard time believing in were Charlie's family, who seem quite controlling and interfering at first, then change character rather dramatically by the end.

My other slight problem with the book is that it seems, at times, to be just a bit too educational. The organisation which trained the dog Ticket is apparently a real one, providing a valuable service to people unable to walk. Another organisation in the book, whose purpose is to enable disabled people to take holidays, is also real. I had heard of neither, and enjoyed reading about them as they related to Cass; but I felt that there was just a bit too much factual information which added nothing to the story. Likewise, when Cass learns the extent of her injuries, there is rather too much detail (at least, for my tastes) about the various kinds of spinal cord problems.

However, these are only minor quibbles. The writing was very good, the various sub-plots woven together well, and I related surprisingly strongly to Cass.

It's chick-it, of course. The cover makes that quite clear, and I suspect this novel will mainly appeal to women. But it's a thought-provoking story, and very moving in places. While there is some fairly frank discussion about what Cass and others may or may not be able to do with their partners, there are - thankfully - no explicit bedroom scenes. While there's a little more bad language than I am comfortable with, it's mostly appropriate in context.

Perhaps the ending is a tad too neat and tidy, but I like threads to be tied up and the way ahead clear. I'm not going to think about Cass for days to come, but I may well find myself thinking about the ramifications of being disabled.


Many thanks to the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If you enjoy this kind of book, I would recommend others by the same author, particularly her autobiography or Ten Years On

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