Book Review: I’m Not Dying with You Tonight

This book ought to be required reading. It’s short, fast-paced, and thought provoking without being accusatory. The contrast between the girls’ perspectives make for an engaging read. Fans of The Hate U Give will love it.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

This book is especially relevant given what has been going on in the US and around the world these past couple months. I first heard about it during an online writers’ conference and was bummed that my library didn’t have a paperback copy. Lucky for me, they had the ebook. This was a quick read—perfect for squeezing between other duties.

Cover Description

“Over the course of one night, two girls with two very different backgrounds must rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has enveloped their city.

Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.

When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.

They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.”

Characters

Lena has a big mouth and a bigger attitude. She’s fashionable, opinionated, and not even a riot can stand between her and her goals. Campbell is quiet, grieving the loss of her old life—friends, track team, living with her mom—and struggling to adapt to her new reality.

The story focuses almost exclusively on these two characters, which poses the risk of making them archetypes for their respective races: the sassy and ambitious African American girl and the mousy and naïve Caucasian one. The authors avoid falling into typecasting by giving each character at least one non-stereotypical characteristic: Campbell is not rich, and Lena is not as well-versed in “the hood” as Campbell assumes.

I agree with the authors’ choice to focus on Lena and Campbell because the strength of the novel is their contrasting perspectives. For example, Campbell views the police as saviors, while Lena knows they will inflame already raging tempers. Contrasts like these make the story compelling.

Plot

The book alternates between Lena and Campbell’s perspective as the riot begins and they try to navigate their way to safety. They each have separate goals. Lena wants nothing more than to reach her boyfriend, and Campbell needs to check on her father’s hardware store. They stick together despite their differences, even though every step they take brings them further into trouble.

When describing the riot, the authors did an excellent job keeping the focus on the individual experiences of their protagonists. When I read The Hate U Give, I got lost in the chaos at the end. While Johnson and Segal describe the craziness of the riot, they keep the focus on Campbell and Lena’s experience of it, and only mention the parts that hinder their progress.

Structurally, the book is short and simple. I read it in about three hours (and I read slower than a teenager cleans their room). The plot moves at a good clip, and, again, the chief strength is the contrasting perspectives.

Needs Improvement

One thing that needed more development was the situation with Lena’s boyfriend. Many other characters expressed a lack of faith in him, and while he does some noble things toward the end, I didn’t feel the authors resolved the subplot. By the end, I couldn’t predict Lena’s next steps in her relationship. Would she stick with her boyfriend and prove to all the haters what a good guy he was, or would she dump him because he isn’t the guy she thought? His actions throughout the book left me with neutral feelings toward him.

Ends Well

While I don’t like the loose end of that subplot, I do appreciate that Lena and Campbell don’t magically become best friends. Both girls change their perspective of the world, but the book doesn’t end with a kumbaya moment.

Writing Style

In keeping with the short length and laser focus of the book, the prose was sparse. The authors included few descriptive details of the characters and often relied on their names (e.g. Big Baby) or dialogue to trigger the readers imagination. I would have liked more; I had trouble keeping Lena’s boyfriend’s  and cousin’s friends straight.

Brief Nit-picking

This is nitpicky, but I disagree with the authors’ choice to italicize the word ghetto. I think any modern American reader understands what that word means in the context of a race riot. To me, italicizing that word signals a foreign meaning and brings it back to its original context: Nazi Germany. Perhaps not all this book’s readers are also into WWII fiction as I am, but for me, italicizing the word was jarring.

Writing Style Highlight

Now that I’ve nit-picked, I want to highlight something the authors did well: the African American Vernacular English—AAE—in Lena’s dialogue and prose. For those who are unfamiliar, AAE is the dialect reporters refer to when they say Obama slips into “Black Speak.”

If Kimberly Jones isn’t a native speaker of this dialect, then she has certainly studied it. The habitual be, copula deletion, negation concord—it’s all there.

I know I’m falling into an all-out nerd-gush, but so often this dialect is reduced into a sprinkling of “Girl, please,” or butchered into a lawless mess. To see such a robust, grammatically accurate depiction makes my speech therapist’s heart all sorts of happy. Seriously, speech pathology graduate students should study Lena’s chapters. We’d have a lot fewer misdiagnoses.

I haven’t geeked out about a character’s dialogue this much since Thanhha Lai’s “Vietnamese in English.” I can’t overestimate how often authors get AAE wrong. Lena’s perspective was the highlight of the book for me.

Other

I love the cover. I think it succinctly communicates the theme.

Conclusion

This book ought to be required reading, and not just for speech pathology students. It’s short, fast-paced, and thought provoking without being accusatory. The contrast between the girls’ perspectives—including in the writing style—make for an engaging read. Fans of The Hate U Give will love it. To be honest, I liked this one better.


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Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

If you enjoy the music of a well-written metaphor, can pass hours lost in the world of a book, and stop to smell the roses while you read, I recommend this book.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I read so much hype about this book. It popped up in multiple book blogs I follow, including the Spanish ones, where the book’s title is Niña Salvaje, “Wild Girl.” Needless to say, I was thrilled when my aunt gifted me a copy.

Back Cover Description

“For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life—until the unthinkable happens.”

Characters

Kya’s perspective is engaging and endearing. Owns builds sympathy for her by describing her less-than-ideal home life. The story portrays her ascent to adulthood with such intimacy that the reader understands why she prefers nature to “civilization.”

Her two love interests, Tate and Chase, contrast each other nicely. I rather liked her relationship with Tate. Unlike a lot of love story subplots, they had common ground on which to base their relationship. Chase falls into the typical “star quarterback” stereotype, but Owens gets away with it by contrasting him with Tate. The other towns folk are exactly the sort of quirky one expects from a small town.

Plot

The story progresses in parallel timelines—one relating the murder-mystery, the other Kya’s coming-of-age. To me, the murder-mystery lacked the intense “who-done-it” factor that characterizes that genre, but the main point of the book was Kya’s life story. The murder-mystery served to highlight the town’s prejudice, Kya’s motives, and Kya’s development into a successful Marsh expert.

“Let me know what you think of the ending,” my grandmother said when she saw the book on my coffee table. She didn’t like it. It wasn’t quite the twist I expected, but to be honest, I have no strong feelings about it. The book would have been fine without it, but isn’t destroyed by its presence.

Writing Style

This is not the book to squeeze into the 5-minute breaks in your day. Where the Crawdads Sing is a story to be enjoyed while basking in the sunshine at the beach or while curled next to a fireplace, snowed in for the weekend. It took me a while to get into this story because I had just finished a heart-pounding WWII tale.

Owen’s prose is heavily descriptive, but not in a bad way. Her metaphors fit the setting and are so creative they resemble poetry. While the WWII tale shot words out like bullets from an automatic rifle, Owens words languish on the page, making the reader want to savor them before moving on.

I am glad I opted to read this book in English. I would have been lost in all that descriptive language had I read Niña Salvaje. I also think the cultural language of the Southern small town would be lost in translation.

One thing I noted was the author enjoyed describing Kya’s food and clothing in detail. Though they made me hungry, the food descriptions added detail to the setting. The descriptions of clothing helped show Kya aging (skirts fell first to her ankles, then her knees, etc), but struck me as odd.  

Aside from a couple instances of head-hopping mid-paragraph, Owens writing was a joy to read.

Miscellaneous

I wish the girl on the cover drove a shallow boat instead of paddling a canoe. One of the poems in the book mentions a girl in a canoe, but Kya’s boat and its appearance are more relevant to the plot.

Conclusion

If you enjoy the music of a well-written metaphor, can pass hours lost in the world of a book, and stop to smell the roses while you read, I recommend this book. Rather than the heart-pounding staccato of more thrilling tales, this book reads like a legato violin solo. A nice change of pace that I wouldn’t have regretted purchasing if I didn’t have generous family members.

Let me know what you think of the ending.


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