Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gimme a Call, by Sarah Mlynowski

Contest Book #17

I've been following Sarah Mlynowski's career ever since the publication of her first novel: 2001's Milkrun, one of the first offerings from Red Dress Ink, the now-defunct Harlequin imprint devoted to modern, stylish "chick lit". I found the heroine of Milkrun grating and the plot so pointless I could barely finish the book, but look at how cute the cover was:


Fast-forward a few years, and I ran into another Mlynowski book: 2005's Bras and Broomsticks. It came out several months before Twilight, making it one of the earliest entries in the current YA fantasy/romance boom. Again, I thought the book was obnoxious, but again, it had an cute, eye-catching cover:


By this time, I was familiar with Ms. Mlynowski's strengths and weaknesses. Her books feature irritating heroines and unsatisfying plot lines, but she gets in early on literary trends and has a positive gift for scoring attention-grabbing cover art. I promised myself I'd never read another one of her books ... but check out last spring's Gimme a Call. Doesn't it look fun?


Clearly, I am weak. Gimme a Call is classic Mlynowski: the heroine is infuriatingly self-obsessed, 95% of the plot is wheel-spinning, and what little resolution the book offers comes late and falls flat.

Gimme a Call is the story of Devi Banks—actually, it's the story of two Devi Bankses. When seventeen-year-old Devi drops her cell phone into a fountain, she discovers a surprising new feature: the phone only calls her fourteen-year-old self. This development comes at a particularly useful time, as Devi has alienated all of her friends, recently been dumped by her longtime boyfriend, and finds herself scraping the bottom of the college barrel. Devi is convinced she needs to change her present by altering her past, even if she has to run her younger self ragged trying to do it.

Time-travel books make my brain hurt, but I do my best to suspend disbelief. Unfortunately, most of Gimme a Call was so repetitive—younger Devi obediently makes a change, the change backfires on her older self, lather, rinse, repeat—I was left with nothing to do but ponder the many reasons the book made no sense. (Older Devi's reality keeps changing, but Mlynowski skirts issues like how one would handle the sudden switch from rudimentary to advanced classes, or from playing mini-golf to being the school's golf champ. Instead, the story focuses the important stuff, like what dreamy boy Devi is dating now.)

I actually found Gimme a Call the most irritating Mlynowski book I've read to date, probably because it was the first one that had real potential. The "If I knew then what I know now..." set-up was fun, if clichéd, and the younger Devi was sweet and appealingly awkward (particularly in contrast with her manipulative, selfish older self). If the time changes had ended halfway through, forcing the older Devi to actually grow up and fix her warped new reality, the book could have been great. Sadly, Mlynowski settles for riding her paper-thin premise into the ground, skipping any pretense of character development, and ending things with a quickie moral about making your own choices, leaving Gimme a Call a weak, dumbed-down version of what it might have been.

[Review based on a publisher-provided copy.]

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