Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche was absolutely fantastic! Add this book to your TBR list immediately!! I’ve been reading my fair share of YA books this season and hadn’t really enjoyed any of them to the point that I was beginning to think that I’d gotten too old and jaded to connect with the storylines. However, Don’t Fail Me Now proved my hypothesis completely wrong! This book is going to be a lot of things for a lot of people, but I’ll settle with explaining what this book meant to me.
The book’s protagonist is Michelle, the 17-year-old eldest child of a temporarily incarcerated mother and a father who deserted her family when Michelle was young. Due to her absentee parents, Michelle is tasked with raising her two younger siblings, a 13-year-old sister who is struggling with being 13 amidst all of her family’s issues and a 6-year-old brother. For the duration of the novel, Michelle’s siblings are dependent on her minimum wage income from her part-time job at Taco Bell. Those circumstances alone would be enough to give Michelle a very complicated life, but the book continues to delve deeper.
The action starts when Michelle is approached by her sibling’s stepbrother… of a different sibling than the two that I’ve already described. When Michelle’s father left Michelle’s family, he shacked up with a new partner and had another daughter who is 13, the same age as the younger sister that lives with Michelle. Sound complicated, yet? The stepbrother explains that Michelle’s father is dying and wants to see her before he passes. After some grumblings, the group of five minors decides to trek across the country to see their shared, dying father. The struggles they encounter as they drive across the country and realize the differences that exist amongst the siblings are what makes this novel so spectacular.
The book also lightly brushes upon what it’s like to be mixed-race and the struggle of encountering peers who don’t check their privilege. Some reviewers have pointed out that they wanted the book to explore these issues more deeply, but I felt like they were detailed enough for their points to be made and I know they’ll likely serve as an entry point to understanding those issues for some readers. If LaMarche had stressed these points further, I think the book may have come off as too preachy to some readers.
I loved this book when I read it as a person in my early 20s, but I needed this book as a young teenager. As someone who had a similarly complicated life to Michelle that involved living paycheck-to-paycheck, doing more for my sibling than any eldest sibling should be asked to do, and having “secret” family members, I would have loved to have read a story that depicted a situation similar to mine. When I was growing up, I felt like my own story was so crazy that there was no way that any of my peers could ever relate. If I had been able to read a book like Don’t Fail Me Now, I would have known that, while my experience is still probably rare-ish, it’s not completely isolated and is a life that many have shared. I hope this book manages to fall into the hands of kids who have similar stories to mine and the protagonist’s and provides them the comfort and shared story that I felt was lacking from most of the books I read as a teen.
Since I so clearly adored this book, I’ve already acquired another book written by LaMarche! I was halfway through reading my e-galley of Don’t Fail Me Now when I attended the Bright Lines book launch event at Greenlight Bookstore. While I was waiting for the event to begin, I noticed Unabrow, Una LaMarche’s memoir, on the table in front of me. Because I was already enjoying my first LaMarche read so much, I decided to impulse buy LaMarche’s memoir and I’ll be reading it soon! If you’ve read Unabrow, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!
Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.