book review: I’m Not Dying With You Tonight

Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 9.16.07 PM.pngtitle: I’m Not Dying with You Tonight
authors: Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones
date: Sourcebooks; August 2019
main characters: Lena Jones & Campbell Carlson
YA fiction
This review is based upon and advanced reader’s copy.

That title! I’m not dying. Not with you!! And, not tonight!

Even though Lena (African American) and Campbell (White) have some classes together, they don’t actually meet until the night of the annual Jonesville vs McPherson rivalry football game. As is the case with such rivalries, tensions are high. Campbell is new to McPherson and has gotten roped into working the concession stand. Lena plans to watch her girl perform at halftime and then meet up with Black, her boyfriend. There’s a long line at the concession stand and because Campbell has little help, the line is moving slow and people are getting impatient.

 “Come on the Panther fan yells, flinging up his hands. “Move already, boy!”

Oh, damn. I freeze. The guy in front of him is African American.

He stops and glances over his shoulder, looking for the source of the comment, and spots the Panthers fan. The noise in the immediate vicinity of the stand hushes a bit. The African American kid turns slowly. ”What’d you say to me?”

The blond boy looks to his group of friends, all of whom have stopped messing around to focus on what’s happening, and the Jonesville kid puffs up. “You heard me, monkey. I told you to move.”
Oh. My God. What a dick. That’s so wrong—(p. 33)

Campbell and Lena end up seeking safety together as the violence that ensues from that one toxic, dehumanizing racist slur spills into the city. The story unfolds in authentic ways that can lead to important thoughts around social oppression; Black women/White women; Black male/female relationships; allies and accomplices; implicit bias and  resistance. The book never directly confronts racial identity, but race permeates every single situation.

Class is also an important theme in the book that Lena introduces it early in the text.

“I saw some size tens in a different style as cute as these. Let me turn a few more checks, and I’m going to hook you up.” [Lena speaking to Lashunda]

“Go, best friend. That’s my best friend,” she [Lashunda] sings, and we both laugh. Her granny, Miss Ann, house is really her house. [sic] Miss Ann works two jobs and drives for Uber. LaShunda does all the laundry, cooking, and watching of her three bad, little cousins. Even though she works real hard, she’s not able to have an after-school job or anything. That’s why I love splurging on a pair of fly shoes for her when I can. I like being that person in her life who gives her the little extras.” (p.2)

I’d call this the new working class. Miss Ann seems to have stable employment (albeit 3 jobs) that provides a home for her grandchildren and she has no need for LaShunda to work in order to help provide for the family. Lena does have a part-time job, but the money is for extras, not to add to her family’s income.

Campbell’s economic status isn’t much different, after all they attend the same high school and live in adjacent neighborhoods. Campbell’s mother left the family to go work in Venezuela. We don’t know what her intentions are toward her family, only that she’s moving for her job. When the teacher, Ms. Marino is hinting for a donating from Mr. Carlson and Campbell clues the reader in about her father’s financial condition. “She knows my dad owns Carlson’s Hardware down in the commercial district on Seventh Avenue. She can’t have ever been in the place, though, if she’s hoping he’s got anything extra to donate.”(p. 12-13) Campbell is currently looking for employment to fill both her time and her pockets.

The story is told in two distinct narrative voices that reinforces the separate identity of the characters. The rich back story of the two main characters that is supplied in the narrative voice informs readers that the baggage we carry into a situation creates our motives for acting as we do. Yet, the two characters never really learn anything of this about each other. The relationship they establish in this one intense night is built solely on instinct. The fact that they know so very little about each other is a significant, and accurate part of the story.

While this remains completely the story of the two female lead characters, the minor character, Black is definitely worth investigating. Everything from his name, to the way he is perceived and, of course his ultimate actions cannot be ignored.

“He got his nickname from his family because his skin is darker than anyone else, but also because he was so dark and calm like a lake. The calm got lost when he got older, but he kept the name. If he was a girl, that rich sable tint would’ve gotten him made fun of, and for sure no one would have been checkin’ for him to be a bae or boo. But being a dude, it made him a lady’s man.” (p. 20)

There is so much to this quick, intense read!

I hope this book makes it into curriculum (and libraries!) across the country because it addresses themes that too often go ignored. I hope the authors are invited to discuss the book with students in schools, libraries and prisons. The publisher has commissioned a discussion guide. The book could easily be paired with All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiley, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, & Identity by Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi or Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera.

Kimberly Jones, African American, and Gilly Segal, White, are debut authors who live in Atlanta, GA.

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