Book Review: A Million to One

Book Review: A Million to One

This won’t be a long review. I don’t have that much to say about A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar. Just in and destroy and out. I jest. But do I? I did not like this book and I did not think it was well written. That’s the nice way of putting it.

Josepha has run away from home and landed in Ireland, taken up a life of petty crime. And now she has her sights set on a theft that will make her free and self-sufficient forever, not to mention that convincing three of the other girls in her boarding house to pull it off with her will get both her and her best friend closer to their relationship goals. The catch? The valuable object will be on the Titanic when it sets sail in a few days.

So, you’d think it would be a heist book. That’s what lots of reviewers say. And the publisher. But it’s not, not really. Though the plot is loosely and officially a heist, it lacks many of the elements important to a (successful) heist novel, so you may want to just throw that idea away now before you are (very) disappointed. Also, it is a historical novel. But the POV is so close into the (too many and underdeveloped) characters, that we fail to learn things about the time and place and we are never actually put into history, into any setting at all. In fact, if you don’t already know the history of the Titanic’s one ill-fated voyage, you are going to have a very hard time understanding some of the scenes and action sequences. It’s also a sapphic romance novel. But the romances are abbreviated, forced, and obvious to the point that you end up reading climactic scenes with the emotional involvement of a dead fish. It’s YA, but it reads (on every level: word choice, tone, internality, depth…) like it’s meant for upper elementary school/middle grades even though the content is older. So it has no genre? Well, no. Fine. It’s a historical, sapphic, romance, YA, heist novel. But it misses everything single thing it is trying to do.

I do actually hate to do that to an author. But I believe Jaigirdar has sold plenty of copies and has built herself a moderately successful authorial career. I’m just calling it how I see it (and how every other person in a rather large YA book club sees it): this one sucks. While the Land of Stories series still holds sway at the top of my worst books list, this one isn’t far behind. So harsh! Well, so many people in the book club were so excited about the potential of this book, but not one person could really justify it. Harsh for us, too.

I’ll break it down, just real fast: Full of cliches. Stakes weren’t high enough. Boring. The girls were terrible thieves and made horrendous decisions. I didn’t believe the sparks. I wasn’t nearly invested enough. Tension was mostly created by the Titanic and the history we already knew. Writing not great, editing not great. Maybe most importantly, was written as if for a MG audience when content and target audience was YA. Lots of telling me how someone was feeling or justifying why they did something, not showing. Nothing except the concept and the history worked for me with this one. I really forced myself through it, pausing to laugh out loud at especially ridiculous moments, like when one of the girls is suddenly a better engineer and more intimate with the Titanic than anyone else in the world at the time, or when one of the girls goes into a room as she’s running from the rising water to find a stranger’s dress and change into it. Cuz she’s wet.

And I’ll give you the book club break-down, too, real fast: (some things are repeats) not really a heist, just a bunch of bumbling scenarios, not-funny physical humor, and running around the ship like Scooby-Doo. (Not to offend Scooby.) Nothing holds up when you look too close. “The only part of this book that wasn’t a plot hole was the boat sinking.” Lacked description and sense of space. Rushed. Quick. Choppy. Written to MG level and style. Heists have to have very adaptive and smart characters, neither of which these were. Way too many POVs. “You have to put the Titanic in a book about the Titanic.” Romance and death happens, and you’re like what? No emotion. The seriousness needed in the girls’ backstories was utterly and completely lacking. The one positive: the sapphic romance didn’t end in one dead and one alive, which is apparently a persistent trope.

Literally every other book Jaigirdar has written has better reviews. Some of the people in club who have read others said she should maybe just stay far away from historical fiction. And heists.

I don’t even think we need a conclusion here. Just read something else of hers, or something else altogether. May I suggest A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord?