This review does contain some spoilers, mostly because I believe in trigger warnings and this book definitely needs to come with at least one. It’s otherwise an engaging look at these two things that I’m not accustomed to seeing.
Trigger warning: Suicide. There’s another trigger but it comes after the spoiler-free section of this review.
For four young women abroad in Paris, a game of Truth or Dare turns life-and-death.
“I had a secret: I wanted to leave the earth in a spectacular fashion. Specifically, by leaping from the Eiffel Tower.” So begins this provocative coming-of-age novel about a teenage girl bent on self-destruction and revenge, set in the City of Light.
It’s the summer of 1999, the end of a millennium. In the mind of Nessa Baxter, a girl from rural Illinois, Paris is the remedy for all of her woes. The death of her beloved brother and the betrayal by her classmate Kat has left Nessa bereft and doubtful about her future. She plans to exact revenge on Kat during their renegade French Club trip. Along with classmates Whitney and Kiran, the four girls embark on a series of misadventures in Paris. As part of her plan, Nessa starts a game of Truth or Dare that spirals out of control.
A suspenseful psychological drama, Midair is the story of a young girl’s descent into darkness and the secrets we keep, even from ourselves.
The characters are all well written and complex by the end. They all start off as fairly one-sided but that’s because the story is told from Nessa’s first person point of view and she sees the others girls as just one thing when they begin the trip. As she gets to know them, they become more complicated to her.
The girls aren’t friends when they arrive in Paris but decide to make the best of things together, even going along with things that it seems like they wouldn’t back home. I’m not sure why they don’t have any sort of supervision if it’s a French Club trip but it does discuss how the trip came together in the beginning, perhaps I just don’t remember. I’ve been in situations in foreign countries where being on my own wasn’t a good or safe option, but going along with what the group wanted wasn’t something I’d have chosen to do on my own. That said, I thought it went well that they decide to stick together and the more submissive girls agree to do whatever the two more aggressive girls through at them but also that some of the girls do chicken out of some of the dares. I appreciated the times that Nessa second guesses her plans and the way I never felt completely sure who it was that would meet the fate we know from the beginning.
Nessa is not in love with Paris. She’s depressed and not experiencing joy as depression can do to people and is therefore not enamored with Paris. She spends a lot of time displaying a negative view about it. She wants to kill herself. She’s not in a romanticizing places part of her life. Someone upset enough to seriously consider and plan a suicide is not in a place to enjoy every baguette they come across no matter how great the city is. I get why it was portrayed this way, but just know that it’s because of the POV character and not because Paris is a bad city to visit.
Okay, so that end of the spoiler free section. Now for the triggers. Trigger Warning: Rape and Suicide
The book begins with talk of suicide and it’s in the back cover info so I don’t expect anyone would walk into the story unsuspecting of it. The rape on the other hand was completely different. I hate using rape as a plot device as much as the last feminist but this didn’t treat it the way I’m used to seeing it.
It’s written in such a way that the reader knows well before the characters revealed it that the girl had been raped. This is technically a YA, so perhaps someone who hasn’t read as much of these darker themes for quite as long as I have been may not have recognized it as soon, but the author definitely wants you to figure it out before she gives it to you. When the events of the rape finally do come out, it really makes you think about the situation of girls in the world. It makes you think about how easily the way a girl plans for the night to turn out can become something completely different when the whole other person is there. See, we as a society have a tendency to focus on whether or not a girl went out with the intention of “getting laid” or attention or whatever other term that gets thrown in there when talk about whether or not she “wanted it” but when a guy that she’s interested in turns all creepy and not what she thought he was, she has the full legal authority to feel differently about what she wants him to do to her and to say so and for her objection to be heard and for him to STOP. Unfortunately, not all men know that.
Then there’s the aftermath. The attention of the story is officially not on the point of view character anymore and she seems to realize it just a touch too late before the climax hits. The rape and the scene of the climax are inextricably linked and focused on the victim rather than any of the bystanders or the perpetrators until the final fateful moment hits and the focus necessarily shifts again. By the end of the story, our protagonist isn’t nearly so centered on her own grief or tragedies and all the characters seem to have rightly redefined what tragedy even means. That’s not to say that the death of her brother which helped to prompt the suicidal thoughts is not a perfectly valid tragedy, but there’s the other problem in her life that is way more manageable than she realizes until then.
Altogether, it’s an interesting story and one that I wouldn’t mind seeing on film, to be honest. Still, I can’t imagine someone triggered by suicide or rape enjoying it. I had gotten this as a Kindle First back in July and it’s still available at Amazon and also from the Book Depository. I acutally upgraded for $1.99 to the audiobook with Brittany Pressley as the narrator. It’s about a 5 hour audiobook and the Pressley is a good narrator.