Saturday, May 08, 2010
By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead, by Julie Anne Peters
Daelyn has decided that it's time to stop being a failure. This time she is determined that she will actually succeed...at killing herself. She discovers a website called Through The Light that encourages her to plan it right and actually "complete" the plan. The website assigns her 23 days to wrap things up.
This book then traces those next 23 days. Daelyn recounts the traumas and losses that have brought her to this desperate point. We learn about a history of bullying, physical and sexual assault, and near-constant harassment and humiliation from her peers (and indifference from the adults). We also get introduced to two of her peers (Santana and Emily) who reach out to her and we get a hint that there might be something for her that is worth living for.
This short book is a quick paced read and, like so many of Peters's other books, is thought-provoking and well-written. Peters has a knack for picking out interesting troubled teens (Luna, Define "Normal", etc.) and I tend to like her books. The themes of bullying, abuse, and suicide will resound with a lot of young readers. I suspect that this book is going to be one of her more popular books and get a wide and positive reception. It's easy to sympathize with the fear of being bullied (we've all gone through it) and the ending will provide plenty of room for discussion (whether informal chatter or a classroom group).
While it is a good book and I totally get why people will like it and recommend it, I'm not going to join that chorus. I didn't like the book and most of all I didn't like Daelyn. That may sound like a cruel and heartless thing to say, but I just found it hard to stomach the constant woe-is-me whine that permeates the entire book. As Daelyn herself acknowledges in the end, that sort of self-pity is probably her worst enemy. I'm not convinced that readers will pick up on that subtlety. Now that I'm grown up, I realize that the melodrama that she relishes so much just isn't going to solve anything. And enduring it for 190 pages really grated on me like nails on a chalkboard (sorry folks, it's a dated analogy!). Now, that feeling is totally personal. It in no way reflects on the fact that the book is well-written and thought-provoking and 99% of folks who read it will love it and find it moving. All of that is true as well. So, I'm going to praise it as an excellent book that you may or may not like (but which I personally didn't enjoy).
Oh, yeah, one thing I think we can ALL agree to criticize this book for is its cover. Daelyn is allegedly this totally overweight girl. Do not even pretend to tell me that the girl on the cover of this book is fat. Julie Anne Peters should SHOOT her publisher for the ironic decision to put Little Miss Twiggy on the cover of a book about body image. And yes, technically, Daelyn does mention that she's recently lost weight, but you KNOW that isn't why the art department made the decisions they made about this cover.