Middle child syndrome hits a whole new level in All About Mia, the second novel from YA author Lisa Williamson, about a teen who struggles to find her place thanks to her “perfect” siblings.
Mia Campbell-Richardson is ruining her parents’ reputation for perfect children. Her older sister, Grace, is an absolute genius, beloved good girl, and young leader studying at a prestigious university. Her younger sister, Audrey, is a fierce young swimmer on the path to the Olympics and thus a local hero. Meanwhile, Mia’s parents keep a picture of her drunk in the hospital on the refrigerator to remind her of the time she partied too hard and had to be rushed in to have her stomach pumped. Mia doesn’t think she’s much different from other teens. She drinks. She dates. She gets in some generally harmless mischief with her best friends. But with sisters like Grace and Audrey, Mia never stood a chance anyway.
When 19-year-old Grace comes home from an archeological study abroad program with a new boyfriend, Sam, and a pregnant belly, Mia is admittedly ready to see some karma for her hypercritical older sister. Surely, she’ll be accepted a little more now that “Amazing Grace” has tripped up in a very big way, right? Mia is shocked when instead, her parents and the community seem to rally around Grace more than ever. As Grace and Sam settle into the house and everyone gets caught up in baby fever, Mia realizes she’ll never be the chosen daughter and begins to spiral, testing every relationship she knows along the way.
I genuinely felt for Mia regarding her family dynamics, especially with older sister Grace, who seemingly can do no wrong in the eyes of society and is constantly belittling Mia. Grace’s judgmental ways felt pretty realistic on the big sister scale, but that doesn’t always mean they’re easy to swallow. Younger sister Audrey is quiet and unassuming, but she’s still considered special, whether she knows it or not. A year away from graduation, Mia is constantly being battered by others who want her to declare “her thing” in life– anything that could lead to a potential career. The problem is Mia doesn’t have any special talents or hobbies that she wants to turn into a career. Like many teens, she’s not a genius or a star athlete, and she doesn’t have her life goals figured out. It makes perfect sense that Mia feels like the underachiever compared to her siblings, who seem to have it all under control.
It’s also perfectly understandable that Mia is loud and a bit immature. She’s sixteen! No 16-year-old character should be a bastion of maturity unless there are very specific circumstances that force the character to grow up quickly, and Mia has lead a very normal life. So if she wants to make mistakes and cross lines and be a bit selfish– Congratulations! That’s called being a teenager.
What I struggled with was Mia’s inner voice as it all went down. Many characters stuck in bad scenario like Mia is throughout the book either don’t realize or don’t care that they’re making poor decisions. While there’s a lack of common sense there, it works– Flawed characters don’t realize they’re flawed. Mia, however, is often aware that she’s making bad choices and does it anyway. She takes it too far because it makes her feel better in the moment, even though she knows her behavior will only make her life harder in the end. And then, despite any shame she feels in the interim, she makes those same decisions again later on.
However, Mia’s relationships are still quite interesting. Her three best friends– Stella, Mikey, and Kimmie– are a little interchangeable personality-wise with only a few individualizing traits, but the four form a fun bunch to follow. Mia and Audrey have a sweet sister bond, though Mia tends to take it for granted. The best relationship in the book was the tenuous friendship between Mia and Grace’s boyfriend, Sam, who’s living with the family for the summer and desperately trying to impress them in the wake of Grace’s unexpected pregnancy. Though he doesn’t always earn Mia’s respect for it, he’s the only character who ever gives her the benefit of the doubt and tries to relate. The two have a couple of great, strictly platonic moments. Don’t worry, it’s not one of those stories.
The novel’s description made it sound like a humorously messy adventure, which is a big part of what drew me in. Unfortunately, the humor is little and it’s much more dramatic than I expected. The story arc could easily lead itself to humor, but Williamson keeps things very straight and narrow, and it wasn’t as entertaining as I had hoped in that aspect.
All About Mia is a character-driven story with a focus on family, so there are definitely big moments of self-discovery, one of which in particular was very touching. However, things wrapped up a little too quickly and too neatly. Mia realizes her effect on others only after she’s really messed with their lives. In a book, a couple weeks and a heartfelt apology can help fix that, but it’s not necessarily true to real life. The story ends a little too certain, a little too cheerily. Readers are led to believe that Mia will learn from her mistakes, but we’ve seen her repeat mistakes in the past, so I needed that point hammered home a little harder for reassurance.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS
All About Mia hits bookshelves on September 12, 2017. You can pre-order now via Amazon.
“That girl is such a mess.” “Why can’t she be like her sisters?”
Blah, blah, blah. That’s all Mia Campbell-Richardson ever hears. From her parents, her teachers, and her never-do-wrong older sister, Grace.
So what if she parties too hard and studies too little? Who cares if she tends to end up with the wrong guys or says the wrong things at the wrong times? She’s still a good friend (except when she isn’t). And she still knows the way things should go (except when they don’t).
When Grace comes home with shocking news, Mia hopes that it’s finally Grace’s turn to get into trouble. But instead it’s Mia whose life spirals out of control.
If you’ve ever said something you later regretted (likely), accidentally broken a friend’s heart (possibly), or ruined a wedding in spectacular fashion (hopefully you haven’t), All About Mia will make you laugh, cry, cry-laugh, and laugh-cry in recognition that life is sometimes most entertaining when it’s at its most unfair.