"I'm Not Dying with You Tonight" Book Review
Author: Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Genre: YA Contemporary
Social rights books written by #ownvoices authors have been an important genre on the rise in the publishing industry. It’s introduced us to an array of amazing novels: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Out of all the books I’ve read by diverse authors, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones is the only one that I have not loved. With forgettable characters, unimpactful moments, and a lack of focus on important issues, this novel is a waste of time that could be spent on much better stories.
I’m Not Dying with You Tonight follows the journey of two girls from completely different walks of life. During the peak of a riot, a white teen, Campbell, and a black teen, Lena, have no choice but to put their differences aside to find their way home in the wake of chaos.
The riot at the girls’ school is caused by a racist white man yelling at a black man, calling him a monkey. From there, it escalates into a brawl that takes over the school, ending with numerous people hurt and a cop shot. This inciting incident takes place at the very beginning of the novel. Every moment of action after is either of equal tension, a tiny bit more, or less. This makes for a boring read, one where the story never reaches a climax or any moment that truly captures me.
Where the moments are big enough to create tension, it’s hard to believe those moments would happen to begin with. For example, the riot at the beginning of the novel escalates so quickly and to such a massive level, that I can barely comprehend how it becomes so chaotic. The premise itself is also questionable. Apparently, the only way Lena and Campbell can get home is by walking through a sketchy part of town at night to meet Lena’s boyfriend, who they aren’t even sure will be there, confronting violent and untrusting strangers on the way. Given what they face during their journey, it’s hard to believe Lena or Campbell wouldn’t be willing to call their fathers or accept Lena’s cousin’s offer to give them a ride. It makes it harder to sympathize with their troubles.
In general, the characters aren’t likeable. I can’t sympathize with anything that happens to them. Part of this is because I don’t get enough of a taste of who they are. The only backstory given on Campbell is about her parents and their absence in her life. All I get with Lena is her obsession/troubles with her boyfriend, nicknamed Black. Beyond those things, I don’t understand my main protagonists enough to care about what happens to them.
Their relationship with each other feels just as disingenuous. Part of this has to do with another main problem of the novel: the lack of impact important moments have on plot and characters. Given the inciting incident and small mentions of the subject here and there, it’s obvious that the authors want to address the black lives matter movement and the injustice of the police system. But it’s only ever a fleeting moment on the pages. They will spend maybe a paragraph on those issues and then, snap, it’s back to our protagonists complaining about crappy boyfriends and flaky parents. The riots don’t seem to impact the story or the characters’ development at all.
Nothing in the story is ever resolved. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Campbell and Lena get into a few arguments about racism and the issues black people have to worry about that white people don’t. At one point, very rude remarks are exchanged and then the conversation is forgotten. It doesn’t affect the plot at all and is never mentioned again, despite the impact Campbell’s comments have on Lena. Another unresolved part of the book is Black. As shown through the prose of both Lena and Campbell, Black plays a large role in this story. He’s the crappy boyfriend that won’t ever show up for Lena, something she tries to deny. As big of a role as he plays in the book, it never comes to any clear conclusion. Lena continues to date him and doesn’t truly express her concerns about their relationship with him. Other things left unexplained include what happens with the two riots. How are they resolved? What are the political outcomes, apart from the protest? Lena’s cousin is hurt during the second riot, but we never find out what happens to him. This book is short. But given how many questions I’m left with and how poorly the plot is wrapped up, this story could have easily been double the length.
But given all the issues I had with this story, its length ending up being a blessing. I hate giving #ownvoices authors bad reviews, because they are so important for the publishing industry. However, there were too many issues with this novel that I couldn’t ignore. With underdeveloped characters and a disappointing plot, this book gets a 1/5. If you want a great novel written by both a white author and a black author, read All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. It’s much more impactful and effective at reaching its readers.