Ida, Alison Evans (2017)
Note: We don’t give star-ratings. We review in order to encourage the development of AusQueerYA, by deconstructing the good and the bad bits, to learn and grow as writers.
‘How do people decide on a path, and find the drive to pursue what they want?
Ida struggles more than other young people to work this out. She can shift between parallel universes, allowing her to follow alternative paths.
One day Ida sees a shadowy, see-through doppelganger of herself on the train. She starts to wonder if she’s actually in control of her ability, and whether there are effects far beyond what she’s considered.
How can she know, anyway, whether one universe is ultimately better than another? And what if the continual shifting causes her to lose what is most important to her, just as she’s discovering what that is, and she can never find her way back?’
Firstly: Queer characters for days. Yes! Ida is bisexual, Daisy is genderqueer, Damaris and Adrastos are both genderfluid and Frank is transgender. Evans uses these terms within the text casually and even includes a scene where Frank apologises to Daisy for not checking which pronouns they prefer (they prefer they/them), which I think shows a depth to Evans understanding of our world that many readers might have missed. To have a character like Frank stumble on pronounce usage allows readers who have not experienced genderfluidity/genderqueerness room to adjust. It is not forced upon the reader to instantly think along these lines. This is something well beyond the scope of what Evans is expected to include in their characterisation. Most readers may miss how generous they have been including this scene.
Secondly: The plot. Ida’s plot has been scrutinised quite heavily by other reviewers. I want to discuss some things they might have overlooked. Sci-fi (even lowkey ones like this) are super rare in AusQueerYA, so it was really cool to have someone be brave enough to go there. This book isn’t about the sci-fi dynamics of switching worlds though. From my reading, I believe the main theme of the story is how we as Queer, and particularly Queer young people are often forced onto paths and identities that we do not want. There is an idea in our society of what we should be doing, how we should act, how we should look and that once we pick a path we have to stick to it. That we should conform to particular gender norms, cultural norms and sexual norms or we are wrong, weird and will ultimately have a shit life.
Ida, because of her super power, is an outcast from society, often literally viewing her life from afar and I think the fact that Damaris and Adrastos are also genderfluid hints at the idea that being Queer and finding the right path for yourself is often far removed from what you grew up believing you should do, from what your parents did, from what your friends do, what you see on TV, what school and books and mainstream culture in general tells you is right.
This is powerful.
The main criticisms of this book have been that it is confusing to follow. It’s true the structure verges on experimental, rather than mainstream YA, but that’s not a bad thing. The whole point is to defy expectations. Being Queer in our society is so incredibly confusing that even today I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. The worlds Ida finds herself in are representative of all the worlds that society constructs for Queer people. The dark, sad and scary worlds are the embodiment of the myth that a Queer life is a bad life. The warm worlds are the worlds we as Queer people dream of, hope to find, or have worked hard to build around us. The ‘lightdark’ is within all our minds, every time we make a decision that impacts our lives as Queer individuals. How quickly one can switch between these places is not ‘unrealistic’, it is the lived experience of our community. I think this message has been lost on many people (maybe non-Queer readers especially). Maybe Evans didn’t write it to mean this, but as a Queer person I can tell you that I have felt like Ida almost every day of my life.
To Be Improved:
SO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS. I really hope Evans does a sequel, because there were so many things I wanted to know more about. I don’t think this was because the book was poorly constructed though. It honestly felt like the laying down of plot threads to be picked up again later, but I’m going to have to chase them up on this or never sleep again (not that I can sleep anyways thanks to those absolutely terrifying doppelgangers).
For example, what’s up with Daisy’s family? Can we please go back in time and see Damaris as a kick-ass time-travelling 1600’s babe? And Damaris said that the whole reason she and Adrastos cant go back is because they will create more ‘gangers’ so surely Ida is not safe and sound now she’s ‘home’. Right? RIGHT?! I also wanted to know more about Frank. There was a big intro for Frank and we learnt heaps about who he is at the beginning of the book, but then he pretty much disappears. Frank spin off series please?
One thing I wasn’t set on was how much Daisy influenced Ida’s journey through her timelines. It was cool that they were already in an established relationship so there was none of the ‘insta-love’ thing happening. And looking back to when I was Ida’s age, I can understand why Daisy was such a motivating factor, but there are some problems in writing this as such. It implies that Ida’s choices are not always her own, but influenced by finding Daisy. I would have loved to have seen some alternative love-interests in some of the other worlds, just to break down that ‘one true love’ thing. I don’t think Evans intended to make it a ‘one true love’ thing at all, but in having Daisy be the warmth in a lot of the worlds, there is that underlying feeling.
The doppelgangers are super scary and I now can’t walk past any mirrors or reflective windows without freaking out.
The sci-fi/fantasy geek in me REALLY wants to see the diagram the ‘gangers’ used to track the original Ida. If Evans would release a book call ‘The Gangers Handbook’ I would order all (well like, 10) of the copies and give them out to you all (well like, 9 of you) for free. That is on record.
Overall, one of the least problematic books in the AusQueerYA genre I have read. This I think comes from the fact Ida is an #OwnVoices novel and Alison Evans in general seems like a person who connects with their identity and has pride in being Queer.