By Carmen J.
With the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor – to name but a few – making headlines and sparking the continued need for police reform and racial unity, the timeliness of this title is both powerful and serendipitous.
I’m Not Dying with you Tonight (available as a book, eBook, and eAudiobook) opens with a familiar setting as we go back to school figuratively and under non-pandemic circumstances: a football game at McPherson High School. We meet Lena, the African American It-Girl of her class who knows everyone. She’s not sure, though, about the whereabouts of her much older boyfriend nicknamed Black, a wannabe music artist who proves to be unreliable in the eyes of Lena’s sage friend LaShunda. Lena and LaShunda have plans to watch the Dolls – the school’s dance team – perform at the game, then Lena wants to hook up with Black. Just a typical Friday night, right? Wrong.
Meanwhile, we also meet Campbell, who is a new student, Caucasian, and hard at work at the concession stand. Overwhelmed by the long lines and lack of help, Campbell does her best to juggle the hungry and thirsty crowds of students – both her McPherson schoolmates and those of their biggest rival, Jonesville High. She needs to work this one shift and wait for her teacher, Ms. Marino, to give her a ride home after the game because her father made plans to visit his fishing cabin. Again, normal Friday night plans? Wrong, again.
Things quickly take a dark turn when a white boy from Jonesville calls a black McPherson student a racial slur. Fists fly and, wait, were those shots fired?
The fast-paced story’s chapters are told alternately from Lena’s and Campbell’s point of view. Two smart and strong young women, brought together in an unusual circumstances as they face racial unrest and become unlikely allies.
Much of the beauty of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight lies in the subtlety of what is said versus what is left unsaid and open to interpretation. Jones and Segal paint real portrayals of teens and the racial inequities they face while writing the way teens really speak. As Black Lives Matter continues to shine a much-needed light on the value of diverse reads, add this one to your reading list and to your conversations.
Carmen J is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, fall weather, Halloween, and pumpkin spice everything.
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