I am so conflicted about this book. It has a sassy MC, but a weak plot and message.
Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an overzealous archangel and Death Himself. The tribunal presents her with two options: she can remain in the lobby, where souls wait to be processed, until her original lifeline expires, or she can replay three moments in her life in an effort to make choices that will result in a future deemed worthy of being saved. It sounds like a no-brainer. She’ll take a walk down memory lane. How hard can changing her future be?
But with each changing moment, RJ’s life begins to unravel, until this self-proclaimed queen bee is a social pariah. She begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth it if she has to spend the next sixty years as an outcast. Too quickly, RJ finds herself back in limbo, her time on Earth once again up for debate.
*This review has mild spoilers, sorry!*
I wanted to love IAWD. The premise was intriguing, and I loved the cover. Unfortunately, IAWD didn’t live up to my expectations.
Let’s start with the positives.
From the first pages, I loved the main character, RJ. She was spunky, stubborn, and unafraid to make waves. Where a lot of people would cower, RJ instantly started fighting to get her life back. If you like sassy main characters, RJ is perfect for you.
I also liked the world building of the Afterlife. IAWD feels like Mean Girls meets Percy Jackson, the latter emphasized by the eccentric and wacky choices the author made about the characters in the Afterlife. Death Himself wears Hawaiian shirts and Saint Peter is friends with Cerberus. Everything about the Afterlife is a quirky take on the original Christian story, and it made for an entertaining story (if not one that I really took seriously).
Unfortunately, the rest of IAWD didn’t work for me. The entire story revolves around RJ realizing that her Mean Girl ways have hurt people; it becomes clear that a second chance at life would have to be used to fix the mistakes that had led her down that selfish and (let’s be honest) bitchy path.
RJ and her ruling clique were incredibly unrealistic for me. Everything about them was exaggerated. Yes, they were incredibly awful human beings, but they were almost too awful. Maybe it’s just that I have never experienced (or heard of people at my school experiencing) the type of bullying that her clique was doing, but the characters in this book felt more like the creation of someone who watched Mean Girls instead of actually pulling on their own high school experiences (or those of others).
PSA: I go to a massive high school (about 3000 people in total). We have popular kids, but there are too many people for a distinct ruling clique to emerge. Most of the popular kids got there by joining ASB and being naturally out-going and social people. Are they great people? Not really, in my opinion. A lot of them are fake and shallow—but they aren’t the stereotypical Queen Bee bullies. Also, because my HS is so big, there isn’t a clear group of “uncool” kids to bully. Because of this, I had a really hard time with the entire set up of RJ’s world. I honestly don’t know if RJ’s story would feel realistic to someone who had a different HS experience from me—but I kind of doubt it.
I said earlier that I loved RJ’s character, and I did. But I never felt like the RJ whose head we were in during the story was the RJ who would stomp all over other people to get to the top. We were told that she was selfish and uncaring, but inside her head, she felt honest and emotionally aware. The fact that she easily took on the redemption tasks only emphasized the disconnect between the RJ the reader knew and the awful RJ that supposedly existed. It was like once the story started, RJ was already redeemed, she just had to realize it; this made for a weak character arc.
This gets to the heart of my problem with IAWD: everything is too easy. RJ realizes her character flaws and changes. People accept her changes. She is quickly and clearly able to save other people through her actions (even from things like depression). Though the synopsis implies her life changes for the worse when she goes back in time and changes things, her life actually improves.
In her acknowledgements, Schmitt describes IAWD as a “save a cheerleader” story. I don’t have a problem with this initial set-up, but I’m disappointed that Schmitt never took the idea further. We’ve all seen this story before; no “new life” was breathed into it, beyond the addition of other stereotypical plot elements.
Because of this, the themes of this book are obvious and lack complexity. The discussions of death/life/morality/the universe that took place during the book were mildly interesting but not ground-breaking. My world view hasn’t changed after reading this book. IAWD came off as stereotypical and cheesy, and a sassy MC and quirky back-up characters wasn’t enough to save it.
I wanted to love this book, but I didn’t. It was a fast read, and halfway through the book, I was reading just to finish it instead of from actual curiosity about the plot. I think the plot would have actually benefited from some romance (I thought it would be there, but it never showed up), if only to add another layer to the story. If you don’t mind plots that come off preachy—or if you had a very Mean Girls high school experience—IAWD might be worth reading.