Title: All These Lives
Author: Sarah Wylie
Length: 245 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★
[12/15 novels in November]
Danielle Bailey’s mother has always told her that she has nine lives. Now that her fraternal twin sister Jena has leukemia, the possibility that she has “extra” lives is all that Dani can think about. She begins going downhill emotionally, academically, and socially as she struggles to cope with Jena’s illness and her inability to do anything about it. Desperate to help her sister and feeling guilty for her own perfect health, Dani puts herself in ever-more dangerous situations in hopes that Jena can somehow “catch” one of her lost lives and recover.
Yeah, it’s a cancer book. Sort of, anyway.
Fortunately, the book is really about Dani and her journey for the most part. Despite being a first-person narrator, she had such a hard shell that it was very difficult to get inside her head and connect with her or know her in any meaningful way. Her main personality trait was Snarkiness. That isn’t all that uncommon in YA, but Dani was a bit of a mean girl to boot. (That said, I don’t think she was as much of a bitch and a bully as she claimed to be—maybe I was just giving her the benefit of the doubt, though.) Her voice was interesting—though not all that unique among YA MCs—at first. After a few chapters, though, it lost some of its charm.
Despite the fact that I prefer softer, sweeter, more intelligent heroines, I thought Dani was kind of refreshing, especially since she was neither very interested in school nor, it seemed, very smart. A lot of YA authors I’ve read make their heroines brilliant, hard-working, almost-Valedictorian-types.
Part of the reason I felt so forgiving was that, to me, Dani was a very troubled young woman who was not receiving the help she needed. She felt crushing guilt for being unable to help Jena, for being the “bad”/“bitchy” sister and still being the healthy one, which manifested in suicidal behavior. She buried these thoughts under the misguided belief that she had more than one life to lose.
That’s not to say her parents neglected her, though. Even for the parents of a cancer patient, the Baileys did their best to pay attention to both of their daughters. They were head-and-shoulders above most YA parents—as in, they were a) meaningfully involved in their children’s lives, and b) they almost had real personalities. Even if Mr. Bailey was sort of a stereotypical quiet-but-caring father. They even had the wherewithal to put Dani in counseling for valid reasons. Too little, too late, but they did notice Dani’s downward spiral, and they did care.
And I have to admit that Mr. Bailey was kind of cute:
The first boy to ever throw rocks at my window late at night is tall with dark tufts of brown hair, eyes a little too close together, and a two-day shadow. He doesn’t serenade me—he can’t play the guitar-and he doesn’t help me climb out, shushing me as I giggle, entangled by bushes and my own feet. This boy is hardly worth coming down for at all, but I owe him.
He’s my father.
… Where is Spencer and the boom box he will use to prove how sorry he is for picking Candy over me? Where is Johnny Depp? At this point, even Jack Penner would do. It’s just my luck that it’s my father, and he’s refusing to disappear. (147)
Jena had a personality once, but it was almost all swallowed by her Cancer Patient persona. That was part of the point—that Dani missed her sister desperately even while she was still alive. Nevertheless, it made me sad, and it made Jena rather dull.
The most compelling character other than Dani was Jack Penner, her geeky-but-cute classmate and sort-of-love-interest. I wish he and his relationship with Dani had each been more fully developed. Jack helped to soften Dani a little. He encouraged her to come out of her shell. But there was not anywhere near enough of him.
The space taken up by Dani’s former best friend Lauren and by Dani’s pointless interactions with “bad boy” Spencer and wannabe Goth-girl Candy/Kandi would have been better spent on Jack or Jena or on Dani herself—or really on anyone other than those three flat characters, none of whom had any impact on the plot. Lauren even had a subplot that just wasted ink and paper.
Not that there was that much of a plot to speak of. The book begins in the middle of Jena’s illness and of the school year. The story drags on for a long time after what must be the climax, but with no clear conclusion. I hardly expected some kind of neat, tidy “happy ending,” but this one petered out and died.
Dani, however, did learn some things, and I believe she did grow as a character. I can’t say I found her sympathetic, but I did feel sorry for her. I wanted her to get the help she needed, and I was cheering for her relationship with Jack. And she did have some endearing moments with her sister.
All in all, it was a solid three-star book.