Book Title Don’t Fail Me Now (Standalone)
Author: Una LaMarche
Number of pages: 288
Michelle and her little siblings Cass and Denny are African-American and living on the poverty line in urban Baltimore, struggling to keep it together with their mom in jail and only Michelle’s part-time job at the Taco Bell to sustain them.
Leah and her stepbrother Tim are white and middle class from suburban Maryland, with few worries beyond winning lacrosse games and getting college applications in on time.
Michelle and Leah only have one thing in common: Buck Devereaux, the biological father who abandoned them when they were little. After news trickles back to them that Buck is dying, they make the uneasy decision to drive across country to his hospice in California. Leah hopes for closure; Michelle just wants to give him a piece of her mind.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– A road-trip book brimming with intersectionality/diversity
– Slow-paced writing and feeling of being disengaged from the cast and their conflict made the experience a bit of a drag
– Romance in this book is off-center of incest (not actually…but the half-sister’s brother is the interest)
– Raises awareness to racial discrimination and microaggressions, economic disparity, gender roles, physiological concerns (diabetes), privilege, etc., but doesn’t cause its importance to resonate
Someone needs to explain to me why road trip books are so wonderful because I’m all “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”
Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of Don’t Fail Me Now from the Book Blog Ontario Meet-Up. I extend thanks to RazorBill for providing me with the opportunity to review this book.
One mother perpetually stuck in jail. One missing father, who as far as Michelle knows, is dead in a ditch somewhere. Probably. Michelle and her two siblings take life by the day; one insulin shot, one shift at Taco Bell, one reminder of an imaginary friend. With Child Services looming to separate them, Michelle catches wind of her father—alive but dying—residing on the other side of the country. The catch? It’s her half-sister who breaks the news; someone she has never met. So begins their cross-country journey to meet the man they call dad that collides two families and their different—and very similar—lives.
Don’t Fail Me Now moves forward—and happens—mostly on a thematic level. It’s real, pliable, and a story centering around family and community. The surreal thing is how LaMarche gives life to the present day working class as the kids travel from Baltimore to California; pit-stops including dingy hotels, malls, and the Grand Canyon. I’m not sure how other road-trip books function, but thank goodness for the consideration of sustenance. It added a nuanced dynamic keeping everyone grounded with the primal need to survive.
One aspect that wasn’t addressed was how they traveled across USA without ever having to deal with through toll roads. I’m not from the States so I can’t really say much about where these stations would be situated but I just felt as though—from my limited experience in USA—it’s something that I’ve seen often and it is an avenue of discussion as it relates to financial concerns and avoiding the Amber Alert.
Being disengaged is how I felt with Don’t Fail Me Now. I wasn’t gripped by the characters or their antics—the run-in with the law, the crumbling family at home, the aunt who gives no fucks, or even the almost incestuous romance—moments that perhaps should have elicited rage with a mix of heartfelt poignancy just wasn’t there. Perhaps it didn’t help that chapters were slow-paced as if the road trip was hauling dead weight; retrospectively, I don’t think is the case at all as nothing was really out of narrative purpose. The prose just wasn’t compelling to read into and made me feel a sense of coldness to these characters and their conflicts.
Furthermore, the blooming—almost incestuous—romance was a miss and quite unnecessary. The appeal would have been stronger had this relationship flourished toward a strong friendship and open-endedness. Having a spark of interest as a first-experience rendezvous is one thing but to throw blood-relations…ish into the mix would seek to take a lot longer than a weekend getaway to really build that dynamic of a plausible romance. I am not saying it’s out of the realm of possibility…it just felt boxed into a checklist of things to achieve and it lacked something genuine.
The intersectionality of the Devereaux family is the force behind the narrative seeking to demonstrate racial discrimination and microaggressions, economic disparity, gender roles, and physiological concerns of teenagers. They are what they are and aren’t afraid to challenge the life of privilege of their white-skinned sister. On that front, it was wonderful.
However, fault lies in the tandem between characters and thematic conflict. It’s a situation akin to raising awareness for discomforting topics…without really talking about it. There’s this preservation of childhood hope that’s fighting against adolescent resiliency; ultimately making the commentary feel rather thin. It’s not that I want kids—or teens, rather—to be strong-armed by realism and endure onslaughts of consequence. Rather, it’s that some threads of the story reached out of the page and tugged at something deeper and it just wasn’t a case for every facet.
If there’s an upside, Don’t Fail Me Now addresses the physiological and emotional strain of diabetes in good taste and doesn’t flounder at giving the concern a voice. A+ there.
Did I walk away with some semblance of positive thoughts? Absolutely. While it may be that I’m just not used to road-trip driven narratives, Una LaMarche’s Don’t Fail Me Now refreshes the adage that the journey is more important than the destination; to fault that would be nonsensical.