Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: By the Time You Read This, I'll be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

Found via: Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011 nominations

So Julie Anne Peters is quickly racing up my informal "favorite authors" list. Last year I loved the under-appreciated Rage and now she's taken on another sensitive and timely topic in By the Time You Read This, I'll be Dead.

Daelyn has had enough. After her last suicide attempt robbed her of her voice and forced her into a neck brace, she is determined that the next attempt will be successful. She finds the website Through the Light, which is for "completers" - people who are determined to kill themselves. The site provides support and ranks suicide methods by categories such as ease of completion and pain involved. The site also asks new members to choose the day they will complete their suicide, setting the minimum at 23 days away. Daelyn chooses the minimum, and so her countdown begins.

Daelyn continues to go through the motions of her daily life, showing up to school where she's the freak who won't talk, and quietly clearing out her closets and shelves to spare her parents the pain of getting rid of her things. Most of her communication is online, reading blog posts on Through the Light and contributing her own, revealing that she has been a victim of bullying for as long as she's been in school, targeted usually for her weight. Until one day after school, while waiting for her mom to pick her up, a boy named Santana sits down with Daelyn and begins talking to her. He's back the next day. And the next. Daelyn sends every signal she can that she doesn't want to befriend this strange homeschooled boy, but Santana is nothing if not persistent. As Daelyn's completion date nears, she finds herself struggling with fundamental decisions about trust, friendship, and just how valuable life may or may not be.

This is not exactly a happy, shiny novel, but it is a timely one. Suicide and bullying are all over the news these days, following the suicide of Phoebe Prince earlier this year. States are proposing anti-bullying laws in order to make sure they have the proper tools to deal with bullying (my home state of Michigan has even proposed one, and my hometown paper is all for it - even if they can't spell it in their headlines...). At the end of the book is a discussion guide - also found online at Through the Light (good job, Hyperion) - prompting readers to really think about bullying and connect Daelyn's struggles with what happens in their own schools.

I was very intrigued by the use of the website in helping Daelyn plan her suicide. The rules of the website explicitly state that it is a support group for those who are planning to kill themselves, and attempts to talk people out of it wouldn't be tolerated, which brings up some major free speech issues, doesn't it? And even this has a counterpart in real life - a former nurse is charged with assisting in two suicides after providing encouragement online.

Daelyn's voice is haunting, and reminds me in some ways of Melinda's in Speak, as both young women have been traumatized and react by not speaking (though Daelyn's silence is initially forced by an injury). Daelyn's story is painful and captivating as we glimpse not only pieces of the bullying she's endured, but the friendship the future may hold for her if she chooses to live. This is another highly recommended title that I hope gets lots of exposure.


Ms. Yingling said...

You have a lot of good titles for a YA blog! We read a lot of the same things, but since I'm in a middle school setting, some of the YA are a little too much for my students. I'll have to stop by your blog and get your take on some things!

Angela Craft said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Ms. Yingling! If you're looking for titles for your middle school students, I do have a tag for the middle grade books, though it's admittedly in need of updating since when I started this I was labeling most titles YA by default. Hope to see you back again soon!

Mel said...

I reviewed this one earlier this year. I agree it is great and timely.

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