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A Reader of Fictions: If I Could - Jack Johnson

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, June 14, 2012

If I Could - Jack Johnson

All These Lives

Author: Sarah Wylie
Pages: 245
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giraux Books for Young Readers
Source: Macmillan via NetGalley

Description from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Dani is convinced she has nine lives. As a child she twice walked away from situations where she should have died. But Dani’s twin, Jena, isn’t so lucky.  She has cancer and might not even be able to keep her one life. Dani’s father is in denial. Her mother is trying to hold it together and prove everything’s normal.  And Jena is wasting away.  To cope, Dani sets out to rid herself of all her extra lives.  Maybe they’ll be released into the universe and someone who wants to live more than she does will get one.  Someone like Jena.  But just when Dani finds herself at the breaking point, she’s faced with a startling realization.  Maybe she doesn’t have nine lives after all.  Maybe she really only ever had one.

First Sentence: "This is how it feels to die: It starts from outside and works its way in."

All These Lives in the latest in my Apocalypsies challenge. Wylie has a deft prose style with its own unique tempo. The writing is fairly simple, but in a natural way, not in a talking down to teens or the author doesn't know any better kind of way. The diction and syntax is so clearly Dani. This is the kind of story that has to be told in first person.

Dani is a serious ball-buster. Put simply, she's a bitch. She doesn't obey her parents, she delivers killer insults to any classmates dumb enough to antagonize her (I LOVE when she tells people off), and she doesn't do her homework. In her desperation and sadness over Jena, she has but one joy in life: flirting salaciously with Jack Penner, nerd. Their relationship definitely was my favorite thing about the novel. They had this awesome, highly awkward dynamic. Plus, you know how I love my nerdy boys!

As bad (or badass) as Dani is, I got the distinct sense that pre-cancer Jena was worse, that Jena was the one who would instigate trouble, and that Dani desperately wanted to be as cool as her fraternal twin. My theory is that as Jena receded Dani began imitating her personality, perhaps to an exaggerated degree, either to inspire Jena to recover or to make her feel as though Jena was still with her at school. However, nothing's really said about how Dani used to be. All you get are vague hints of the past. Trying to piece together life before was definitely a favorite aspect of the book.

All These Lives is about cancer, so I probably don't need to tell you that it's not exactly an upper or a beach read. Much of it is insanely depressing. What I love, though, is that you get to see echoes of the real Jena emerge sometimes on good days. You don't get to see that for a while, and the story definitely picked up when I got to know Jena as a person, not just a pile of blankets. The cast of important characters is very small (Dani, Jena, parents, and Jack), but they're all very well-drawn. It's especially cool that the characters develop throughout the series, both actually and just through Dani's perception of them.

The one thing that didn't work for me was the concept unfortunately. Dani is convinced, because of a joke her mother made when about how they both had nine lives since they survived a couple of accidents, that she really has nine lives. She also heard some folklore about cats having a differing amount of lives and that, when one lost a life, the life could go to another cat. Because of this, she decides she needs to 'lose' her lives, so that her sister can live longer. This just took the whole invincibility of youth thing too far for me. The whole thing was so inconceivable to me (at least in the real world; it might work in a fairy tale setting) that I felt myself drawing away from Dani. I had trouble relating to her, even though I adored her bitchiness, because I could not comprehend her thought process.

Depending on how you feel about the premise, All These Lives could be a much better read for you. Wylie's novel offers a unique lens on dealing with cancer in a loved one. As an added bonus, Wylie avoids YA tropes, and does her own thing. Though this wasn't a perfect read for me personally, I definitely intend to read more Wylie!

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote: "Even now, it's still hard for him to say it. I don't blame him. It's an icky word. Why couldn't whoever was in charge of naming things call cancer 'sugar' and sugar, 'cancer'? People might not eat so much of the stuff then. And it's so much more pleasant to die of sugar."

"I heard some words
From a friend on the phone
That didn't sound so good
The doctor gave him two weeks to live
I'd give him more if I could

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Blogger Giselle said...

Great review muffin! Dani is a super bitch but god was it entertaining!! haha. I really enjoyed this one but I agree the 9 lives concept was a bit too bizarre for me I kinda ignored that part lol.

June 15, 2012 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Super bitches are risky heroines, but, thankfully, it worked here, mostly because Dani knew she was a bitch and owned it. The worst is when the heroine thinks she's sweet, but is actually a bitch. Ugh.

I just couldn't set that aside. I'd be getting into it, like when she texted HarcoreKandi from Spencer's instant messenger, and then she'd go off and try to commit suicide like Bella pining for Edward. NOOOO.

June 15, 2012 at 8:18 AM  

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