I don’t think I can get through this review without spoilers, so there’s your warning.
“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 the 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.
Now, doesn’t that sound like such an amazing premise? It does. It’s what drew me in, but man, did it fall flat. I can understand that teenagers do stupid shit. I get it. I was once one some years back, so I know how stupid they can be. But these girls are right-off-the-bat stupid. The first thing they do once they land at Charles de Gaulle? They get into a white van with a couple of guys they don’t even know, and let these guys drive them to their rental. Mistake #2. Now, they know where they’re living for however many days (it was difficult keeping track of time). They also accepted an invite to the guys’ party. Mistake #3.
Nessa, full name Vanessa Baxter, is all woe-is-me over her irrelevant dead brother, and apparent “betrayal” from another classmate because she copied Nessa’s ACT answers exactly (which isn’t even possible, I don’t think) and Nessa was singled out for cheating and her scores canceled while Kat got to brag that she scored perfectly and got into Yale. If Nessa was so smart, she would have done her research about retaking the test, or she could’ve taken the SATs, but no. Her dead brother–whom we never actually get a physical description of, by the way; I still don’t know if he was older or younger–and the melodramatics over one test is apparently enough to make Nessa think that she’s depressed, and there’s a throwaway character who (other than giving her her first orgasm) basically says she’s not because of the fact the fact that she’s thinking about revenge, when a depressed mind is thinking about anything but. He was also a psychology major, and that offended her, for some reason. Everything offended her for some reason.
Nessa starts a game of Truth or Dare that she concocted inside her head, and she spent more time trying to come up with dares that fit the girls’ personality, and all they wanted to do was enjoy the city. Their first night they dine-and-dash a local restaurant because their waiter corrected Whitney’s French (if you’re going to visit a foreign country, at least try to speak the basics of the language; it shows respect), so he gets the nickname “dickweed” or something. Another dare had Kiran inside a boutique trying on the ugliest wedding dress they could find, and then she was dared to destroy it with a pair of scissors (she doesn’t). Kat’s first dare was to seduce a mime. Whitney had to chop off all her hair, and Nessa, when they went to the party, had to accept whatever was offered to her, be it pot, cocaine, ecstasy… mushrooms.
The story goes back and forth between past and present, with a mysterious older version of one of the characters chiming in every few chapters about what she remembered. This older character is now a mother to a teenage girl who has the same obsession with Paris, and as you go along, you learn that this supposed “wiser” point-of-view is a grown-up Nessa. Her daughter wants to go to Paris, but she’s adamant about saying “no,” out of guilt from what happened on the Eiffel Tower in 1999. There’s no indication to what year it is in grown-up Nessa’s point-of-view, but I guess you can get close to figuring it out by guessing her daughter’s age. Grown-up Nessa is married and a paralegal, apparently; her husband isn’t the biological father to her daughter, but he treats Cricket (the daughter) as if she were, and that’s really all that matters. We don’t really get much of a description about him, either, except that he has a receding hairline and a hair color (I already forgot what it was).
My major problem with this book, though, is the rape, and how it’s treated. One of the girls, Kat, gets gang-raped by the two men they met at the airport when they landed, and the author tried to play it off as not a big deal because Kat’s already perceived as a nympho slut, so she “sacrificed” herself to “save” Kiran, one of the other girls.Kiran feels guilty, and then there’s this whole chapter with a street urchin boy who apparently calls himself “Rabbit” and Kiran takes it upon herself to “do the right thing” and bathe him and feed him, and I just don’t understand the purpose of that chapter and why it was included. I get the rabbit hole metaphor, but that could have been made without a throwaway character that adds absolutely nothing to the story.
The girls go to the Eiffel Tower where Nessa has plans to throw herself off, but Kat is understandably still shaken up about her gang-rape, and Nessa put the idea of suicide into everyone’s head as a last Truth, and Kat acted as if she was seriously contemplating it. Which leads to Kiran, the one person who hadn’t ever thought about suicide, to step forward and attempt to grab Kat’s foot to keep from jumping or falling, only for Kat to shake her off and Kiran lost her balance and fell off the tower. So, the suicide never happened, but you knew that pretty early on from of the flash-forward chapters that it was another girl, you just didn’t know who until about 95% into it.
Oh, and did I mention that there was a second rape? But this one was treated worse than Kat’s because it was Nessa and she “sacrificed” herself to the two men who raped Kat to maybe “save” a potential future victim and to “feel her friend’s pain.” That one ended in pregnancy.She doesn’t know who fathered her daughter, but Nessa worked hard to give her daughter the life she never had, and at the end of the book, which ends weirdly, Nessa decides to confess out of guilt and tear apart her daughter’s entire world.
The writing left a lot to be desired, which is ironic considering the author actually teaches it. The dialogue was the worst, the descriptions were kept to being superficial, and there were a couple spelling mistakes that took me out of the story briefly (note: it’s “mannequins,” not “manekins” and also, “just desserts,” two S’s).
None of the characters were likable, not even Nessa, and while a main character doesn’t necessarily need to be likable for a good story, I got the feeling that we were supposed to sympathize with her, and I just couldn’t do that. She was the most judgmental character I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading, and while I didn’t like any of the other girls, after her gang-rape, Kat was the only person I didn’t want to throw off the Eiffel Tower myself.
I don’t give out one stars often, but this… I can’t even imagine bumping it up any higher.