Monday, July 23, 2012

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie

Release Date
: June 5th 2012
Pages: 245
Format: Hardcover
Source: D&M Publishers
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Buy It: Book Depository
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.
The first thing I must mention about All These Lives is how incredibly, breathtakingly, beautifully written Sarah Wylie's debut is. It's in the voice of the characters and the perfect little moments. It's in statements likes this:
 “Most people think the biggest sacrifice, the greatest act of love you can give is to die for someone. And probably it is. But sometimes it is the opposite. The biggest thing you can do for someone is to live.”
That just perfectly capture what the story is about.

Dani's voice is full of sarcasm and bite and heartbreak. She's funny and mean. She's real. And as a main character, as a narrator, I just loved her. However, while she is only sixteen, sometimes Dani came across as even younger, childish even. Part of it was the huge personality change she has apparently undergone in response to her sister's disease, but mostly it was in the way she whines and sometimes speaks. One example is:
"It's an icky word. Why couldn't whoever was in charge of naming things call cancer "sugar" and sugar, "cancer"? People might not eat so much of the stuff then. And it's so much more pleasant to die of sugar."
It just sounded like the kind of comment I'd expect to hear from a kid, not a teenager.

On the surface, All These Lives is a "cancer book", but what makes it so remarkable is the fact that it's not really about cancer. It's about love and family and those moments when somebody is hurting and you feel totally helpless. It's about sisters, in the same powerful and beautifully written way that Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma is.

My biggest problem with the novel was how muddled it got near the ending. The result was that the ending felt pretty abrupt, and I was confused about what had actually happened which was kinda annoying. Despite the lack of resolution it provided, what made me fall in love with  All These Lives was the snarky and strong voice of Dani and the lyrical beauty of Wylie's writing. I'll definitely be picking up her second novel.

As a completely irrelevant but interesting to me sidenote: Wylie actually graduated from the same University I did my biology masters at the year before me in neuroscience. Yay for science-loving Canadian writers.

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