CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 12. . . .November 22, 2013
Sylvia McNicoll’s latest YA novel, Dying to Go Viral, is a somewhat uncomfortable mix of nagging cautionary tale and poignant fantasy story about life and relationships.
When Jade’s brother Devon gives her a skateboard for her fourteenth birthday, she is excited at the prospect of learning new tricks and impressing 18-year-old YouTube filmmaker Aidan. When Aidan asks Jade to help him make a viral video by taking off her helmet and holding onto a car while skateboarding, Jade agrees, and dies.
In heaven, Jade meets her mother who gives Jade the chance to relive the last week of her life so that she can try to help Devon and her father. Jade goes back with a list of tasks she wants to accomplish in her last week, including getting her father a girlfriend, repairing the relationship between her dad and Devon, and experiencing romance. The characters and conflict are developed to make it plausible that these changes could occur in a week; however, it is much more difficult for the reader to believe that the fragile peace between her family members or her dad’s new romance will survive the trauma of Jade’s death.
The story is often predictable and seems to follow a trope-ridden plotline where Jade makes a mistake, dies, is given a second chance at life, and learns from her mistake. While the story is generally entertaining to read, the adult author often seems like a heavy-handed puppet-master and the characters and events are simply a vehicle to nag youth about listening to their parents. This is obvious in conversations about how skateboarding is a “death wish,” and when Jade realizes time and time again that parents were right when they warned her and her friends about being safe. The effect of this repeated emphasis throughout the novel and even in the book’s title turns the story into a fairly traditional cautionary tale.
In general, Dying to Go Viral may find resistance from young readers, especially avid skateboarders, who are put off by its moralizing tone, but those without a strong personal connection to the subject matter will probably enjoy its light teen romance and bittersweet emotional drama.
Beth Wilcox is a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at UBC and is a teacher in Prince George, BC.
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