I’m Not Dying With You Tonight is not a book I think I normally would have picked up, but I’m glad I did. I’m not the biggest fan of “young adult” literature in most instances, but this is so much more than just a young adult novel. This is something that I could see being considered a classic someday, decades down the road. Like so many of the classics, this book intimately and expertly peels away superficial elements and displays integral bits of human nature.
It’s initially offputting, reading a book entirely written in first-person with alternating chapters from the two protagonists’ perspectives, but they’re so well-crafted and uniquely voiced that it quickly ceases to be an issue. It’s a little bit experimental, in that sense, but I’ve never been one to shy away from experimental literature. In that sense, it’s reminiscent (in the loosest way) of the novel-length poem Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski, just not focused on two lovers and not spanning the whole of history.
Campbell and Lena attend the same high school but exist in different worlds until a riot at a football game forces them together as unlikely partners attempting to find safety and security. The two girls begin developing a bond, despite their differences and cultural ignorance with respect to one another’s lives and experiences, showcasing not that we’re all the same (because that’s a naive perspective) but that we can find common ground and understanding even when we aren’t the same. Just when they think the worst is over, when they believe they’re in the home stretch, everything around them seemingly collapses into chaos and violence.
It’s almost prescient, how timely this book ultimately ended up being, with the events of 2020 and the turmoil surrounding race relations…but that’s how it is with the best books, they help to shine a light at just the right time in the right place, quite the opposite of the circumstances that brought Campbell and Lena together.