Since the earliest days of fiction (with authors like Charles Dickens, H.G.Wells and Enrique Gasper y Rimbau) we’ve been enchanted by the idea of time travel; travelling forward into the future or sinking back into the past. Time travel plots as part of the sci-fi/fantasy genres are some of the most popular, imaginative and well-known tales in any medium; that explore not only ourselves but themes, lives and situations that would be impossible for us to otherwise experience. Tldr; the perfect playground for fiction.
IDA, however, is not a story about time travel.
Being able to re-do mistakes, to take the other road bent in undergrowth is, I think, one of the single most popular and wishful fantasies we’re capable of conceiving. I know I’d kill for such an ability, and in coming from a sci-fi connoisseur family I loving seeing stories that play with this idea and with works like IDA I’m more than happy to read them.
I did expect a different story coming off the blurb of IDA and starting on that first page. From the blurb; I assumed Ida knew the truth of her ability—but somehow, these turned out to be instead important reveals and core pieces of information for plot, tense and drama which, having read the blurb, had me know more than Ida did, which lessened that particular plot thread/reveal and Ida’s subsequent reactions for me.
In fact, the bulk of the novel’s plot is Ida trying to figure out why these doppelgängers of herself (their self? The whole novel was in first person so I don’t know Ida’s pronouns for sure) keep popping up everywhere with only the final quarter of the novel being what I originally thought the novel was going to be about (uh, solving the whole problem). It felt a little like the blurb had set up separate expectations and spoiled a bit story for me, not a major gripe or anything (lord knows authors can’t control reader expectation) but it would be disingenuous for me to say this didn’t colour my experience with the book.
Which was still a great experience, I really did enjoy this book. Parallel universes have been a long mainstay in Sci-fi/fantasy films and stories (for good reason) they’re the rich soil from which unique, thoughtful and oftentimes challenging stories bloom. Just a side note I categorise IDA as a parallel universe/multiverse story rather than just universe hopping due to the nature of the universes we see her go into (similar yet different realities) and the fact that she does indeed hop or ‘switch’ back and forth them (suggesting that though the parallel universes exist individually, they’re stringed together in the multiverse, making such jumps or switches possible), which feeds into Ida’s mistake of thinking she was/is time travelling.
With a (sub)genre as expansive and all-encompassing as Time Travel/The Multiverse, it’s easy to fall into common trope pitfalls and predictability (especially if you’ve read/watched as many variations of these ideas as I have), the novel does try to elevate this a little with the addition of it's own 'take', but because of these familiar tropes/plot points a quarter of the way or so through the novel I knew where it was headed (narratively) but I still was immersed enough to read on.
Why? Well, by this point I’d already and remarkably easily, become attached to Ida. Along with the little freshness thrown in by secondary characters like Damaris and Adrastos, I kept on reading despite knowing how the story would unfold. (Were IDA a TV show I’d demand a spin off).
The novel is more character focused than anything, honing in on Ida (with first person perspective) and her companions. Surprisingly for me; I rather liked the romance between Ida and Daisy (meaning I had no squicks or nit-picks), I thought it was well realised and articulated and just genuinely really sweet. Unlike so many other books I’ve read lately (really it’s YA what do I expect) the romance didn’t overpower the rest of the story or characters but complimented them, deepening my appreciation and investment.
Speaking of, IDA is remarkably well balanced overall, between plot, characters, romance and exposition, it's slow a little in places but overall flows nicely. Frank, Ida’s cousin, was a wonderful addition to the ensemble, reserved, quietly intriguing, like Damaris and Adrastos I’d love to see more of him.
I liked Ida almost from the get go—though I’m not a fan of first person perspective (again, hard because YA is FULL of it) I thought my initial qualms with first person p.o.v were offset against Evan’s grounding Ida’s character less so in her ‘effervescent and intangible thoughts’ and more so in sensation, in the awareness (or at times lack there of) of what was going on around her. There’s a tendency in first person p.o.v for characters to get lost in their thoughts and feelings, I didn’t feel Ida nor IDA had this issue.
In saying this though, Ida’s immense and prolonging hate of her job and hospitality did get a little tired towards the final third of the novel- it’s not a big plot point or anything, but it was something of a constant complaint throughout the work. Yep hospitality sucks, people suck, we get it. (Note: this is more of a personal nit-pick rather than anything actually about the story, so don’t take this as a serious criticism, there are lots of people out there who hate their jobs, lord knows I’ve had some stinkers see: door knocker for excruciating details).
On the flip side, I found Ida’s listlessness refreshing, I always find it great when a young protagonist doesn’t know what they want to do with their lives, doesn’t want to go to uni, isn’t even really independent yet still figuring out this mess we call ‘adulting’. Which I think subverted my expectations of the novel most of all.
I anticipated being invested in okay-to-good characters and being swept away by an engaging plot. When actually I finished feeling more on frequency with the cast and Ida in particular rather than the plot and her universe jumping abilities. Because in IDA, the characters, the ideas of these characters felt real. IDA may not completely stand out in the time travel/multiverse perspective but it hits on some underlining truth enough that it’s clear this is the novels strength. Feelings of insecurity, of “playing at adulthood,” are powerful and not often-explored in YA given our tendency towards trying to escape those exact same feelings through fictional fantasies, and the general age-range of YA, but it is still an important exploration.
IDA is at it’s best when it allows us into this (seemingly) fully fledged world of realism and people; when it focuses on the small moments like lying beside someone you love, talking with your dad over the breakfast table, yes hating your job and even just hanging out with a friend, deciding where you will ‘vacation’ together after your next ‘mission’. These moment shine rather than the grand, sweeping cosmic changes that happen as a result of Ida messing with the space-time continuum.
I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, you’ll know this if you’ve read my 2017 anticipation round up, or glimpsed my twitter, and I’m so thankful and happy that IDA was my first book of the new year, ushering me in well.
What really grabbed my attention at the Youth Centre for Literature's YA Showcase back in 2016 about IDA was, of course, the novels inclusion of queer characters and a diverse cast. Now, I’m not going to make a big deal of it because it shouldn’t be a big deal it should just be a normal and accepted part of life (and fiction) but I do have endless praise for IDA bringing me this; queer characters, non-binary, trans, a whole plethora of queerness, and just having it as an accepted part of everyday life and living, (but not downplaying the reality of such people/identities). There’s little else to say, I’m sure many other reviewers have and will rain accolades down on IDA for it’s diversity so I’m just saying this;
That’s how I like my diversity, real and grounded with little fanfare, hoopla or flashing lights.
Overall, IDA is a strong novel working well within the conventions of sci-fi to give us something at times both relatable and all the way through enjoyable.
I recommend it highly to kick off your reading year.