Review: Midnight Chat by Jo Ramsey

For the past two years, since meeting in ninth grade, Mira MacDonald and Rob Stevens have been inseparable best friends. Rob’s struggles with depression, and his reliance on Mira, sometimes make the friendship difficult for Mira, but she wants to support Rob. Especially since he’s the victim of severe bullying at school due to his sexuality. Even though Rob isn’t out, he is gay, and the suspicion is enough for some people to torment him.

Now Mira has her first girlfriend, Talia Acevedo, and Rob’s jealousy is becoming even more of a problem. Rob insists that Talia doesn’t like him and is trying to break up their friendship. Mira tries to stay neutral, but it isn’t easy when Rob’s obsession with her escalates—along with his anger as the harassment gets worse.

One night, during one of their typical midnight text sessions, Rob tells Mira he’s decided to take drastic action at school to stop the bullying once and for all. And if she tries to stop him or tells anyone else, she’ll be first on his target list.

This story made me feel really uncomfortable, in a way that opened me up to self-analysis and critical thought.

Mira is in a really tough position. Fifteen, with a friend who requires a lot of attention and care, Mira is trying to be loyal, but the things Rob is saying to her are scary. She’s not sure how to handle it, and also fears that Rob will feel betrayed if she asks for help, even though he needs more help than Mira can provide.

This is one of those stories that really shines a light on the reality of school bullying and teens with mental illness. Whether it is overcrowding, underfunding, or misunderstanding, the sorts of things that happen in this story are seen across the world in schools. News articles, activism, and parent groups all over find the system, and social norms, impossible to navigate when bullying gets to this point. It’s a lose-lose situation, and it’s one of the things most parents I know, fear when having children.

This story was raw, and powerful, in the way the author spared no quarter with displaying bullying. It is something I’m sure the majority of people have experienced, seen, or heard about. The outcome can be tragic, and cause generational damage. All these messages came across in this story.

Mira is in the most impossible situation, and I really felt her pain, fear, and frustration. Her ability as a child to be heard, for the sake of her friend, shines a glaring light on how children and teens are perceived in our society. While this is set in America, this is also a global problem. Dismissing children as exaggerators, hysterical, or troublemakers instead of listening first, is one of the biggest problems I see when my own teens try to express something that is bothering them.

Rob’s homelife is a continuation of his life at school. He feels trapped, and bullied by his parents. His perceived sexuality is associated with his manliness, or lack thereof, by his father, he is told he should just stick up for himself, and “be a man”. This was the most difficult part of the story for me. This lose-lose battle, where children who are bullied are told to stick up for themselves, and then end up in trouble with everyone as a result, victims of more severe bullying, or emasculated due to their innate nature of pacifism. They feel so hopelessly trapped that there is no winning. Children lose their lives because adults cannot accept what is right in front of them, or do not have the tools or support to navigate this type of situation. All throughout the story, I was frustrated along side Mira. I was torn in two by the scenes in the story. We have international events and programs dedicated to anti-bullying, but on a local, individual level, the system fails. Heartbreaking, and soul destroying, this story had me analysing my own worldviews, and how fragile mental health can be in adolescents who face this type of ostracism.

I also battled with my feelings on whether I want my children to read a story like this. I tried to think of the types of stories I was reading when I was a teen. What was the earliest I read something as complex as this? The conclusion I came to was, yes, they are old enough. They are old enough to know how to be an advocate for themselves and their friends, with the support of adults. They are old enough to speak up, and speak out. My teens are thirteen and fourteen. They are as different as night and day, and most times I worry more about one, than the other. I worry about secrets, and bullying, and whether I need to act. I worry that if something were to happen to one of them, would they tell me, and whether I could successfully advocate for them, without overtaking their own needs for self-advocacy. I worry constantly about whether or not I would know that this was happening. And I worry about how the men in my family view “being a man” and “fighting back” and whether that would impact how they advocated for my children. If I am worried about these things, then I accept that they are participating in a culture that produces bullying, and therefore they are old enough to read something that resonates with the reality of that culture.

Mira is also trying to navigate her own sexuality, and first relationship, while trying to support her friend. It is draining, and I felt her exhaustion. Being split between being a friend to Rob, who needs her, with her new relationship with Talia strains her to her emotional limit.

The importance of being there for those who need her overtakes her own needs for self-care. I think this is a golden message for teens (and adults) about boundaries and being well enough to clearly assist someone else. It also facilitates that really important conversation of when something is beyond your ability to manage, and when to seek outside help. This is something that plagues Mira, and freezes her in an unhealthy situation.

I loved the complexity of relationships in this story. I thought the character building was good. I connected with Mira and felt all her feelings with her. I also empathised with Rob’s struggle, and how his lack of support from those with authority, along with his mental illness, created a pretty toxic situation for both Rob, and Mira.

Being YA I would first recommend a parent reading this before deciding whether their child is ready. I think this would be an excellent book for parents and teens to read together. This is something that could be used as a communication tool. It’s not perfect in execution, but it is definitely a story that is powerful in it’s delivery. It is hard to read, there will be a lot of tears, but it is important on many different levels.

A well rounded read, with some pretty heavy content. I would recommend it to all, but check in with your own mental well-being before diving into this.

A Review copy was provided for an honest opinion

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