Monday, July 24, 2017

Review - If I Wake

If I Wake
by Nikki Moyes
Date: 2016
Publisher: Inspiring Publishers
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 276
Format: e-book

Will is sixteen year old Lucy’s best friend. Their lives intersect in dreams, where destiny pulls them together through different times in history. Even though their meetings are more real to Lucy than the present, Lucy is uncertain if Will exists outside her mind.
Lucy’s mum thinks there is something wrong when Lucy sleeps for days at a time.
She is so caught up with finding a cure she doesn’t see the real problem. Lucy is bullied at school and is thinking of ending her life.
When the bullying goes too far and Lucy ends up in a coma, only Will can reach her. But how do you live when the only person who can save you doesn’t exist?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. If you want to read a version with the spoilers hidden, head on over to Goodreads and read it there.

I know it might not seem like it from the way I rate and review books, but I don't actually go into any book thinking I'm going to dislike it. The synopsis and premise are usually what'll spur me to pick up a book, and that was the case here. I was intrigued by the "dream friend" aspect of the story, and hoped that it would provide an interesting backdrop for exploring the themes of bullying and suicide. Unfortunately, it did not; I found the book to be problematic and potentially dangerous.

I wish there had been more critical reviews of this book on Goodreads so I would've known what I was getting myself into. Aside from some low ratings, there were (at the time of my reading of the book) no critical reviews. After posting some of my initial thoughts in my Goodreads status updates and receiving ad hominem attacks (ironic, considering one of the messages of this book is about being kind because you don't know what another person is going through in their life), I wondered if perhaps I wasn't the only one who'd been harassed for not liking this. In any case, here's the sort of review that I wish I had seen before I decided to pick up this book. I might've saved myself some grief.

Going in, I felt the premise had some merit, so I was almost immediately frustrated by the poor quality of the writing. If a book is just bad all around, with a stupid plot and lousy characters from the beginning, I won't care so much. But when there's a glimmer of something, some spark of potential, it's really sad when it doesn't work out. Even worse is when that spark gets obliterated by bad creative choices and the urge to send a preachy message.

I had problems right away, but I was willing to overlook them and see where the story would take me. From the start, I was confused. The book is written almost entirely in the present tense, even though it incorporates recent flashbacks, ancient flashbacks, and even a flash forward. At times, the narrative jumps between these times quite rapidly, making it difficult to tell where and when the main character is. Adding to my confusion is the fact that Lucy (the narrator) starts out the story referring to herself in the third person. I guess the author wanted to start the story with an air of mystery, but all it did was confuse me, and since the third-person perspective wasn't repeated again, it came off as little more than a cheap trick.

I didn't understand what was going on in the story with Lucy and Will, and I'm still not entirely sure. Lucy may have been some sort of hologram. She went back into the past to interact with Will, staying until she died... at which point, her body there would vanish and she'd wake up back in her own time. I can work with that. Will, on the other hand, made no sense. For a while, I thought he was reincarnating over and over... and yet, that theory went out the window in the later part of the book. See, Will shows up in all these different time periods. His name is usually a variation on "Will" and he looks similar enough in all of his incarnations that Lucy always recognizes him. But as we get to the end of the book (in a sudden switch to dystopian sci-fi at almost 3/4 of the way through), we're introduced to Willis... who's the grandson of Will... who's the great-grandson of Bill. And Lucy actually meets Bill in real time when he's an old man. So the Will who saves her from finally killing herself can't be the same one she was with in all those other time periods because he exists in the same time period as one of them. Confused yet? (And, yes, she's saved from killing herself by a boy. And then everything in her life magically gets better. Just like in real life, right?)

I've read stories with a similar fantasy premise before (see below), so I thought I knew what I was getting into. But this was just so badly done that... Well, let's see. Lucy supposedly went into a coma every year on her birthday (since age 11) and met with Will in the past. The thing is, we're only told about the instances at ages 11, 13, and 16. There was another brief one in England that the author seemed to have forgotten about, and the other missing instances were mentioned later (in one sentence). I thought this part of the story could've been fleshed out a little more. There was an awful lot of glossing over, including where Lucy apparently almost drowned in her bathtub and got pneumonia... but the only reason we even know about that is because she tells us (again, in one sentence). I found it really difficult to care about the characters because everything was so detached and unemotional. Reading the synopsis, I'd expected this to be a romance. But, aside from one kiss, there was little else. The characters didn't even have any chemistry. It's not entirely surprising, though, since Lucy was one of the weakest characters I've read in a while. She's defined almost entirely by her victimhood. The Wills are likewise bland. They exist seemingly to be there for Lucy and smile at her and... well, I don't really know what else. The villains are all ridiculously evil; there are no shades of grey. And that makes it all the more unrealistic when, at the end, Lucy becomes best friends with two of them.

Early on, Lucy made a comment about her suicide attempt that threw up a great big red flag. I kept it in mind, but waited to see if she would come around and not be so... well, stupid:

I did this to make her and her friends pay for their continued abuse - and to stop the endless emotional pain.

Deciding to commit suicide to punish a bully. Sounds healthy, right? (If someone is horrible enough to push you in front of a truck, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that they're probably not going to feel that bad if you commit suicide.) In the end, though, Lucy never really realized this was wrong, and even more ridiculous was the fact that "this" wasn't even an actual suicide attempt. Lucy's coma in the beginning of the book was caused by her bully pushing her in front of an oncoming truck. (Lucy takes credit for this, though, implying that this was actually a suicide attempt because she let it happen. Okay...)

I have so many problems with this aspect of the story. Lucy's life was absolute hell... to the point of it being completely unrealistic. At times, I wondered if her real life was another one of the dreams, since it seemed to be something out of The Twilight Zone. Her school was like an asylum populated by psychopaths. Everyone was cruel for no reason. The teachers were clueless, and kind of cruel themselves. (In one instance, one of the bullies shoved Lucy outside a grocery store, causing her to drop and break a bottle and then cut her hand on the glass. This was in front of the bully's father, who just stared at the bleeding, crying Lucy "like [she was] a stain on his carpet" and walked away. Then all the passers-by ignored her as well.) Lucy's mother was ridiculous. She obviously couldn't read people--even her own daughter's tears didn't seem to faze her--and she appeared to have no empathy at all. She didn't date anyone for sixteen years, and then she took up with a walking plot device named Frank, a lovely specimen who continually smirked at Lucy, groped her mother in front of her, whispered things like, "No one wants you. You're good for nothing. Do us all a favour; stop hanging around and just die," and even kicked a feeble old man in a wheelchair. (Yeah... we get it. Frank's a bad dude.) When Lucy finally makes a friend, said friend kills herself. Because... why not? Let's make Lucy's life even more unrealistically hellish. Then there was the amusing (if it weren't so disturbing) talk with the school counsellor after the friend's suicide:

"How did she die?" The words leave my mouth without me realising I moved my lips.
"That's not important," she says.
"She killed herself," I say. It's not a question. I've never felt so alone in my life.
"We don't talk about things like that!" the counsellor gasps.

The problem is that this pretty much negates what's in the author's note. If you're feeling suicidal, talk to someone: a friend, a family member, a psychiatrist, a counsellor. Right... Like Lucy's school counsellor who doesn't even want to talk about suicide? What is she there for, then?

Aside from the disturbing lack of care the suicide angle was handled with, this book was just poorly written. It was in dire need of a good editor. No, scratch that. Any editor. There were comma splices everywhere... and then where there should've been commas, there weren't any. There were plenty of misspellings, too, and some words that were just plain wrong (including one rather amusing use of "extract" where the author meant "extricate"). Some things weren't explained (like how Bill, an American, suddenly appeared in Australia with his whole family just in time to save Lucy). The comas were medically ridiculous. (At one point, someone mentions organ donation, and Frank wants life support switched off. As far as I could tell, there was no life support. Maybe Frank is one of those people who thinks "pulling the plug" means simply switching off the heart monitor.) The book comes across as self-published, though I'm not sure if it is or not (the publisher has a self-publishing division). In any case, the writing is juvenile, weak, and riddled with errors. Reading this was an exhausting task.

All in all, I wouldn't recommend this one, either for the fantasy aspect or for the suicide/bullying theme. For some better books with the "dream friend", reincarnation, or time travel premises, have a look at these:

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
Dream Boy by Mary Crockett & Madelyn Rosenberg
Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr
Reincarnation by Suzanne Weyn

Quotable moment:

I am Lucy.

My body lies on the hospital bed being watched over by Mum. My mind has left the room and I'm in Will's world one final time. Sometimes I'm called back into the hospital room, although I don't know why. It's never happened before, but then this is the first time I've ever tried to kill myself.

Occasionally I wonder what would happen, if I wake.

Premise: 2/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 1/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 0/5
Originality: 2/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.25 out of 5 ladybugs