All These Lives
by Sarah Wylie
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.
This book is loaded with emotional cliffs and we drop off more than one as we navigate, for a brief time, in the life of Dani Bailey's complicated and decidedly depressing life. Not that Dani does anything to make it better. But her twin, her other half, the one who knows her best, the one who she promised when she was six and had the chicken pox that she would die for her, is dying right before her eyes and she can't stop it. But she has this odd theory that she has nine lives from something her mother told her when she survived a car crash when she was little. And she thinks when Jena is at her worst, if she gives up one of those lives, then Jena will feel well. And so she goes from one suicide attempt to another without anyone really understanding what is happening. Except for Jack.
Dani and Jack have known each other since kindergarten and apparently Dani has been bullying Jack verbally since then. She loves to tease him and make him blush. But now that things have changed in her life, the stakes are higher and suddenly Jack is talking back. Somehow he knows what's going on and like everyone else, she uses her humor as a defense to push him away. Dani has essentially become a stranger to herself. She doesn't know who she is without Jena and she's so afraid that Jena is going to die that instead of savoring her moments with her, she pushes her away and stays away as much as possible. But to think "I will go on existing without her. Wear dresses she has never seen. One birthday cake instead of two. The thought is so absurd that I almost burst out laughing." That's what she thinks as tears roll down my cheeks.
Dani's parents make her start seeing a therapist after she crashes a motorcycle and she's still denying herself any help. If they could only see what we could see, they would put her on 24 hour lock down, and I'm not one to kid about that. She is a danger to herself always. Her biggest fear is being left alone without her twin. Seeing that empty chair at the table for four. Being the one left behind. Some of the last pages are the most profound in the story which I can't share of course. But it makes me wonder who is more scared, the person dying or the ones left behind?
Dani does crash land literally. And she has to decide is she going to quit before she even knows if her sister makes it through the cancer? Or is she going to live the life she's been given, considering she's wasting the one she'd do anything to give to her sister, which is impossible. She has a wicked sense of humor, which she keeps despite everything, but I think I'd be exhausted keeping everyone in my life at arm's length. And in the end, she finds out she isn't as enigmatic as she thought.
I'd definitely recommend this for YA readers that can handle death and suicide. It's heavy on both.
I received a copy of this from MacMillan Children's Publishing through NetGalley for review. The opinions expressed are my own. I was not compensated for my review.