One day, Mia’s biggest problem was figuring out how serious her crush, the jock Ryan, was about her. The next, it’s learning she has leukemia and trying to hide it from all her friends because she believes that as long as she can make everything stay the same as it’s always been, her cancer will eventually go away as well. But the more Mia tries to act normal, the more it strains her relationships with Ryan and her friends, especially that with Gyver, her longtime guy friend. How long can Mia keep up the deception, and what will happen when people find out?
I approached SEND ME A SIGN with the knowledge that many readers had high expectations for this book, though I didn’t really have any myself. What I got out of my reading experience was that this debut novel squandered a good opportunity to discuss cancer in eye-opening ways and opted instead to be a perfectly, irritatingly run-of-the-mill YA contemporary novel about high school relationship drama.
SEND ME A SIGN could’ve used Mia’s cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to reflect on people’s belief in superstitions: What is the significance of signs to people? Why do people often look for signs in the course of their life, and how is the significance they place in signs affected in light of a life-changing event? Instead, Mia’s superstitions are a mere gimmick that fails to mask the truth about this book: that it is a totally average, totally unoriginal “cancer tale” featuring a hopelessly selfish heroine who never realizes the extent of her privilege and concocts wildly immature justifications for the predicaments she gets herself into with her own narrow thinking.
This book wants us to sympathize or empathize with Mia, the popular, she’s-got-it-all cheerleader whose life unravels from something out of her control—but Mia is no Sam from Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall or Parker from Courtney Summers’ Cracked Up to Be. Sam and Parker’s are bitchy and self-centered, but we readers could see their flaws and see how they can become better people.
Mia, however, is—oh, how can I put this delicately—inexcusably, horrifically, disappointingly f*****g selfish. I could see the series of decisions she made to end up the way she did, but I wasn’t sympathetic at all to her self-imposed plight, and I didn’t believe at any point in the novel that Mia’s character was redeemable.
Actually, part of me sees this as a problem with the form of the fiction novel. The very fact that Mia refused to give up the appearance of perfection even when inside she was falling apart was easy for her friends and us readers to see: Mia succeeded much less than she thought she did at fooling her friends, and of course, with this book being written in first-person POV, we weren’t fooled at all. This premature understanding on our part of Mia’s Tragic Flaw, however, meant that the majority of this overly long novel was just a cycle of the same events and situations over and over again: Mia has an opportunity to tell the truth, something prevents her from doing so, and she gets into even deeper shit. It’s painfully repetitive with no point and adds nothing to the story’s character or plot development. Most of the story’s major conflicts were set early on, in the first few chapters, and then the characters don’t arrive at any sort of growth until the last few chapters! Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t need to read nearly 400 pages for the MC to learn something I already knew she had to learn by Chapter 3.
SEND ME A SIGN suffers from a naïve belief that its “deep and sensitive” subject—cancer—will automatically evoke readers’ sympathies and keep readers invested in the story. Uh, no. That’s Fiction Writing 101: even the most intriguing premise can be made into a cure for insomnia by shoddy storytelling. What SEND ME A SIGN really is is a basic high school friendship/love triangle tale with “I’m different because I’m about cancer!” written on its figurative forehead. There is a maybe-maybe-not jock love interest; a group of cheerleaders who try and fail to be more than just an easily forgotten group of privileged white teenage girls; and oh, yes, apparently there is some dude named Gyver who’s supposedly the love interest but kind of just flits in and out of the pages and conveniently forgives Mia for her appallingly selfish behavior because he’s been in love with her his whole life. Like we haven’t read that before. Honestly, if Gyver were half the guy this story wants him to be, he would have never put up with so much of Mia’s crap. It’s pure wish fulfillment, is Gyver. And that is how this book’s romance failed for me as well, adding yet another black mark against it: if you didn’t do the cancer storyline well, couldn’t you at least have done the romance a little better?
The following quote, which appears at 77% in my e-galley, kind of sums up all of what’s wrong with this book for me:
Cancer had cost so much: friendships, grades, cheerleading, my whole sense of who I was. I needed to know: would I beat this and have time to fix things?No, Mia, your cancer didn’t ruin your life. Your self-centered personality did. And this book isn’t a cancer book: it’s about the relationship drama of a protagonist who—by the way—has cancer. You get no pity from me.
Cover discussion: I don't even want to.
Walker Children's / Oct. 2, 2012 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $16.99
e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley. Sorry.