If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin, released 2018
Late one night in the quiet Hudson Valley town of Havenkill, a distraught woman stumbles into the police station—and lives are changed forever.
Aimee En, once a darling of the ’80s pop music scene, claims that a teenage boy stole her car, then ran over another young man who’d rushed to help.
As Liam Miller’s life hangs in the balance, the events of that fateful night begin to come into focus. But is everything as it seems?
The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. But is Wade really guilty? And if he isn’t, why won’t he talk?
It has been so long since I walked around a bookstore and ended up buying a handful of books. And okay, on the day in question I didn’t actually leave the store with the books I picked out. I wrote the names down, went home, ordered the books online and then waited 3 to 5 business days for my books which *sounds* insane but online books are always marketed cheaper? If someone can explain why that would be cool but anyway, this is my brief explanation of the process I went through before If I Die Tonight actually landed in my hands. And I was excited to read it! I adoooore mystery books. Despite the track record these Chooseday Tuesdays have set up for me, mystery novels are my number one favourite. From page one, I’m trying to uncover the whodunit, the whydunit, the intrigue that drives the plot. These are the books I truly *cannot put down.*
Except If I Die Tonight was put down multiple times. By page twenty, there was a big ole frown on my face and let me count the reasons. A number one issue I have with mystery books is the writing style. I shouldn’t say “issue,” because that makes it sound like all mystery books have this problem. The truth is that I *hate* when a mystery book has poor writing quality because that detracts from the flow of the plot and when you have a “who killed so and so” or “where is the kidnapper” kind of vibe going, the *last* thing you want is choppy writing cutting in. Am I alone in this? But Gaylin’s writing style was really frustrating for me. For one, she has this style where people assume what someone is thinking? Like, a person doesn’t say: “I made dinner,” it’s more, “It’s five now!” Does that make sense? You have to use inductive reasoning to know what the person is talking about all the time. It’s five, so it must be dinner time. WHICH IS SO ANNOYING. It can be clever if a writer does it from time to time, but not when they do it allll the time. I feel like I have to investigate people’s speech all the time. No one talks like this!
Also, about the writing style, this book was told from multiple POVs. I knew this going in and I’ve read many books from several POVs; it’s not a deal-breaker done right. However, in this book, it was not done right. Every character has the same voice! There’s a thirteen-year-old boy who says things like “made it feel like preschool in here, which was sad in a way Connor couldn’t quite put his finger on.” Does that not sound off to anyone?? This book has about six or seven different POVs and they are not distinguishable. I have to search for the character’s name to know who is talking. And they don’t add much to the story, in the sense that maybe two or three POVs would have been enough. We even get the point of view of Aimee En, who is a suspect for a while. I’m not sure if her point of view was supposed to make me suspect her more, or less, or pity her… It was just weird.
The characters were unlikeable. They had character traits that were likeable, but … they felt tacked on? Like, every character felt like a robot, just moving around saying words the author wanted them to say and sometimes being nice because now was a good time to make the reader like them. I felt no connection to anyone in this book, which made it really difficult to keep reading. I mean, I wanted to know the solution to the mystery, but even that was starting to fade halfway through because even the suspect didn’t care. No one caaareeed. Ugh.
My review is actually turning into a rant, and while I have no problem stating the negative parts of a book, I don’t want to full on rant about a book. So let me take a beat and say there are some positives to If I Die Tonight. The plot itself had strong elements. If it was arranged differently, this review could have gone a lot better. We have the notion of a small town that never really experienced crime that is suddenly hit by its beloved football player being struck by a car. Is the witness lying? Or was there a carjacker who hit football player Liam and rushed off with no remorse?
Sadly, the book didn’t really explore the “is the witness lying” angle (despite pitching it) and even when the town turns on “high school outcast Wade Reed” everything just feels…. surface level. I think this book could have made some real social commentaries. There were some good moments for it. But Gaylin breezed past those moments and ended with the statement that… you should appreciate what you have? I think that’s supposed to be the takeaway. Which is really weird considering [HUGE SPOILER] character Jackie finds out in the last thirty pages that the reason her son Wade didn’t fight accusations of hit-and-run was because he was sleeping with her forty-year-old best friend Helen. And this is right after Jackie’s other son Connor is shot by a thirteen-year-old and almost dies??? Meanwhile other main character Pearl confronts her “tragic past” (as a three year old she accidentally used a loaded gun and killed her mother) by finding out her father purposefully didn’t stop her because he knew the mom was cheating. [END SPOILER] This was more eventful than the rest of the book by a mile and it was still very dull because the characters reacted by not reacting. As in, they took in these events and walked away.
SO I will take their cue and walk away from this book, leaving a one crown rating at the door.
For next week’s Chooseday, let’s make it a good one!
1) Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse [Historical Fiction]
Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.
On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person – a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.
2) Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate [Fiction]
Paloma High School is ordinary by anyone’s standards. It’s got the same cliques, the same prejudices, the same suspect cafeteria food. And like every high school, every student has something to hide—from Kat, the thespian who conceals her trust issues onstage, to Valentine, the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal.
When that scandal bubbles over, and rumors of a teacher-student affair surface, everyone starts hunting for someone to blame. For the seven unlikely allies at the heart of it all, the collision of their seven ordinary-seeming lives results in extraordinary change.
(3) Dangerous Girls [Mystery]
It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off on a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations.
As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers hard truths about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.
As she awaits the judge’s decree, it becomes clear that everyone around her thinks she is not just guilty, but dangerous. When the truth comes out, it is more shocking than one could ever imagine…
What book should I read next? Vote in the comments!
📷 = @shaniasquires
6 thoughts on “Chooseday Tuesday: Alison Gaylin “If I Die Tonight””
A three-year-old killed someone with a gun?? Well, it said it was an accident, but I find that really unbelievable… whatever. 😊 I’ll vote for Girl in the Blue Coat~
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The gun was loaded, and the safety was off, and it was left laying on the ground. So the girl picked it up and pulled the trigger… And apparently ever since her entire family considered her a murderer? Which was the part *I* really found unbelievable, because excuse me but she was three years old. That part really needed some fleshing out. If you ever do read the book, let me know what you think. Thanks for the vote!
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The rant was not as savage as expected but this book sounds like a mess. With multiple POVs and soooooo many, you gots to be on top of the characterization but this just sounds so sketch. Sorry it was a disappointment. I feel like you may need a break from mystery so I votes for number two.
It WAS sketch. I was close to a DNF. V unlikeable characters. No. Not unlikeable. I didn’t dislike them, I just didn’t care.
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That’s almost worse in a way since you’re at least feeling some passion? Drats. 😦
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