Review: If I Should Die Before I Wake

If I Should Die Before I Wake
If I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time. I look at it in the library. I take it home. I leave it in the living room. I bring it back. Somehow, I’m just never in the mood for a story about a skinhead neo-nazi and all her hate and violence. Plus, Jane Yolen and the Twilight Zone already did moving ‘switch-bodies-with-a-Holocaust-victim’ stories.

So, here I am, surprised to tell you that the Hilary (nazi) sections of the story are better written and more moving than the Chana (Holocaust) parts. I’m not done yet; I didn’t feel like reading this today. I’ll let you know what I think when it’s all done.

This telling really picks up as you move into it. Hilary experiences Chana’s thoughts and deprivations as her family is forced into the ghetto, prison, and Auschwitz. It’s not as hard-hitting as other YA Holocaust books I have read. Nolan dials back the harshness and horror and pain. Though I hate reading that stuff, I think it’s a mistake. If we are to learn from history, and if Hilary is supposed to learn from her psychic connection to Chana, there has to be a big impact.

At the very end, there is strong emotion, but it all wraps up so quickly — Spoiler Here — Hilary is redeemed, her mom repents and becomes love, Simon is found, all in a page or two. I wish Nolan had chosen to write some of the aftermath: How does Hilary enact the lessons she’s learned? How does she make amends? Who does she turn to now that she can’t be friends with any of the gang kids with whom she used to spend all her time? How does Simon’s family continue to live next door to her? We all know prejudice and persecution are wrong; what we don’t always know is how to proceed from there.

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