Patricia J. O'Brien's Reviews > All These Lives

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie
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's review
Jun 23, 2012

really liked it

If someone you loved was dying, what kind of deals would you make with God or the Universe or whatever might have the power to change things? What would you try if you believed you had nine lives and your twin had been granted only one and it was faltering? This is what drives Dani, the teen protagonist of ALL THESE LIVES.
I loved this book. That's the first thing I have to say. Second, I've followed Sarah Wylie's blog since before she had a book deal. What drew me there was her humor, fresh take on the world and her oh-so-clever commentary. I pretty much figured I was going to like her debut novel, because I already liked her writing style and spirit. I not only like this book, I'm stunned by the risks Sarah took, or I believe she took, in developing this character, who is flawed and absolutely authentic. Dani tugged at my heart.
A few reader-reviewers have said they dislike Dani because she is snarky and sometimes a bully, but this is the very thing that is so real in this story. Dani wasn't always this way. She is doing what so many kids, or even adults, do when they're helpless and afraid, she's striking out, and because she's smart she often uses words. Even she knows it's inappropriate. She does it anyway until she learns some things about herself, her family and her friends.
What is so beautiful about Dani is the way she tries to use up her extra lives to buy her sister more time. Other people see a girl acting up or looking for attention when she does crazy stuff and gets hurt. She never tells anyone that she's bartering with the universe, that she doesn't believe she deserves to be spared while her sister is destroyed.
When I was a newspaper features writer I did a series of articles on a teenage girl with leukemia. She was undergoing bone marrow transplant, and I clearly remember her younger sister standing in the shadows of her sick sister, their parents, the doctors. It's a tough place for a kid to be.
I was awed by how Sarah not only got that but built an unexpected story around it.
Recently, I wrote about Patrick Ness's A MONSTER CALLS, another book with a kid protagonist facing cancer in a close family member. That boy, too, acts out in frustration and tries to survive in a terrifying situation. Both Ness and Wylie found extraordinary ways to help their characters cope, survive and grow.
Usually I'm not a fan of prologues, but Sarah put a short one on this story that is breathtaking. Here it is:
"This is how it feels to die. It starts from outside and works its way in. Your cuticles, the tips of your fingers. Fire under your nails that spreads into your bones, burning and freezing everything it comes into contact with. Your arms, your ankles, your teeth, your knees, your stomach, and the place where your heart should be.
Your heart is always the last to go. One hundred irregular beats per minute, and then zero.
But that's just the start. The start of dying.
This is the rest."

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