Scheer, Kodi. Midair.

NY: Little A, 2016.

The author teaches writing at the University of Michigan, and this may or may not be her first published novel, but it’s not a bad effort. It’s also quite short — barely 200 pages — but she packs a lot into it. It’s the summer of 1999 and Vanessa Baxter is eighteen, a recent high school graduate from a semi-rural Chicago suburb, and she has just arrived in Paris with three of her classmates. Her single-parent family, unlikely those of her friends, has no money to speak of, but the girls managed to find sponsors for the trip and now they’re settling into a tiny short-term apartment on the Île de la Cité. Nessie is the brainy one, and also one of the class rejects.

She recently lost her much loved older, very athletic brother, Vince, to a bizarre heart attack and she hasn’t really adapted at all to his death. (She takes the urn with his ashes out for long midnight drives and rails at him for abandoning her.) But she decided to honor him by getting into a first-rate university on a full scholarship and aced the ACTs in the process — only to be accused of cheating because another girl who sat next to her also made a perfect score. Kat, in fact, had copied from her work, but her family has money and Ivy League connections, so she gets the benefit of the doubt. And there goes Vanessa’s college plans. Her “life plan,” in fact. Now Nessie has a secret plan: Killing herself by jumping off the Eiffel Tower. And making sure Kat is present to witness it and knows exactly why she’s done it.

The thing is, brief alternating chapters, set in the present day, make it clear that Nessie not only survived Paris but has a husband and a daughter now. And also that one of the four girls did not make it home again — and that it’s all Vanessa’s fault. It’s a grim secret that she has had to confront every day for sixteen years.

Scheer’s writing is quite good, fast-paced and frequently intense, and her portrayal of the four teenagers, each quite different from the others, is very nicely handled. And the tension is palpable as they play Truth or Dare and the reader waits to see which of them will die.

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