Release Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Macmillan)
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: ARC received from publisher
Sixteen-year-old Dani is convinced she has nine lives. As a child she twice walked away from situations where she should have died. But Dani’s twin, Jena, isn’t so lucky. She has cancer and might not even be able to keep her one life. Dani’s father is in denial. Her mother is trying to hold it together and prove everything’s normal. And Jena is wasting away.
To cope, Dani sets out to rid herself of all her extra lives. Maybe they’ll be released into the universe and someone who wants to live more than she does will get one. Someone like Jena. But just when Dani finds herself at the breaking point, she’s faced with a startling realization. Maybe she doesn’t have nine lives after all. Maybe she really only ever had one.
Tell Me More: Much of the conversation regarding terminal illness has focused on the patients themselves, understandably so. They are the ones that struggle through every breath, even as they try to live normal lives. Sarah Wylie’s poignant debut novel highlights the parallel journey of a girl watching her sister be consumed by cancer, and the risks she takes to try to stop it.
The challenges posed by this novel are two-fold: 1) can the reader hang on through what can seem like lackluster prose? and 2) can the reader refrain from judging Dani before the story is over? I initially found both difficult to do, because All These Lives is not a book that vies for one’s attention. The prose is quiet, unassuming, and surprisingly, not as emotional as I was expecting. Wylie is not a writer who tries to shock her readers, but neither does she fall into the tried-and-true cliches of stories about cancer. It’s a tough, deadly business, and I appreciated her determination to keep it from falling into blatant sentimentality. The reader is never far off from the touch of death, and Wylie leaves nothing to hide behind. You either face the truth of Dani’s family’s life, or you give up.
Dani is one of the most flawed individuals I’ve ever met in literature, and her true nature is so carefully hidden in the story that I feel it will take me at least three more rereads to really understand her. There is a hesitation in everything she says and does that can go unnoticed, because readers may latch onto her reckless decisions. The way Wylie balances Dani’s doubts and courage is a stunning act, and it reflects on how many of us live our lives. I would never recommend that teenagers follow Dani’s path, but certainly they can find something to relate to in her determination to save her sister’s life.
The Final Say: All These Lives is a novel that won’t grab readers’ attention straightaway, but those who stick with it will find much to consider and reflect upon, especially when it comes to the bond of a family.