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“I‘m Not Dying with You Tonight follows two teen girls―one black, one white―who have to confront their own assumptions about racial inequality as they rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has set their city on fire with civil unrest.
Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.
When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.
They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.”
I haven’t posted them here on this blog [short reviews or comic/manga reviews stay over on my GoodReads] but I’ve been reading more anti-racist literature this year. So far it’s been non-fiction and I’d rather people actually read them to absorb what they have to say rather than a full length review. However I decided to take a little break from non-fiction and head back over to fiction that also was a highly suggested work of anti-racist and differing perspective themes as well as in this case, co-written by a woman of color and a Jewish woman.
If you’re not familiar with Kim Jones, she delivered this incredibly powerful speech that literally gave me chills the first time I watched her. I immediately followed her everywhere and went out and purchased her book that this review is about.
I’m Not Dying with You Tonight [INDWYT] is a YA novel about two drastically different teenage girls who have to come together to help each other survive a race riot that starts at their own highschool and swallows the entire town.
Like the description says, Lena is a confident, popular and well-beloved teenaged girl who ‘always looks like she just stepped out of a music video.’ She has a supportive Family and Friend system [though not of her boyfriend], a popular and attractive boyfriend, and a lot of potential to provide the world around her.
Campbell is a shy, mousy, defeated teen that has been repeatedly abandoned by her individual parents and thrown into the unknown by making her finish her senior year of highchool in an unknown town with no friends or support system, by a father that she hasn’t seen in years that also stopped paying her child support years ago for selfish reasons.
A highschool football game is neither girl’s scene, but are both there for one reason or another. Lena is there to support her friends on the dance team. Campbell was involuntarily volunteered to help work concessions and pawned off by her father so he could ditch her to go fishing. Then all hell breaks loose.
The rival football team is made up of a predominantly white student school, who regularly wear confederate flags, casually use racial slurs, and only received slaps on the wrists for wearing blackface for a public stunt. Lena and Campbell’s highschool is made up of predominantly black students, underfunded, but an underdog.
When the rival team throws slurs out and starts a massive fight, it quickly escalates as cops show up and get involved. Campbell is trapped inside the concession trailer, who is joined by Lena to escape the chaos and try and wait for things to die down. Then shots ring out, and a young black highschool student and a police officer are killed.
The highschool grounds turn into an ocean of violence, and Campbell and Lena realize that all they really have are themselves. Lena tries to plead for her [actually very shitty] boyfriend to come rescue her, but he refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation/dismisses her fear and tells her to meet him across the town – only for her phone to die. Campbell has a phone, but it’s on the other side of the school.
They join forces to get each other to Campbell’s phone to try and get help, but no such luck. Campbell has been once again abandoned by her father and a teacher that was supposed to bring her home, while Lena is also mostly abandoned by her boyfriend but is blind to it. They realize that once helicopters and police arrive at the school in riot gear, they need to get out – only to find that all of the safe routes to either of their homes are barricaded off, so the only way to meet up with Lena’s boyfriend is to traverse the most dangerous route through the city.
Along the way, we find out more about both girls. Lena is in a semi-emotionally abusive and dependent relationship but is blind to the fact and still worships her boyfriend, and has a strict home life. Campbell is naive and ignorant to the real world. She admits early on when she keeps showing said ignorance that her time with Lena is the longest time she’s ever spent with a black person and has some very ignorant views on race. This causes a further divide between the girls until they are stalked in a mostly abandoned neighborhood and Lena is attacked. Campbell defends Lena and scares off her attacker, and uses her track skills to drag Lena along with her and haul ass to try and meet up to get a ride home via Lena’s boyfriend.
When they finally make it into the city, it’s swarmed with protesters, as well as provocateurs. Just like at their school, before either understands what’s going on, they’re swept up in an escalation that breaks out in a full blown riot, and looting shortly thereafter. The two are repeatedly caught in between fights and both find themselves injured and terrified and the spot where Lena’s boyfriend was supposed to meet them is empty – has has left her behind. In this chaos it’s realized that Campbell’s father’s hardware store has been abandoned by his workers and violently looted. This is world-crashing for Campbell because despite Lena’s assumptions that Campbell is a rich white girl, she’s actually rather poor and this hardware store is all her father has to keep them barely afloat.
In both of their grief they take it out on each other and are about to go their separate ways, only to meet a wall of militarized riot police that immediately start attacking everyone in sight including teenagers, pregnant women, and Lena witnesses her cousin being brutalized by the police merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
More chaos ensues when Lena and Campbell run into Lena’s boyfriend and his ‘crew’ who is just as surprised as she is to see each other. After more police and military dodging it seems like the girls are finally on their way to be safe and go home, only for Campbell to see in the trunk of their escape vehicle, a massive amount of merchandise that had been looted from her father’s store by Lena’s boyfriend’s friends.
Despite that it seems like I’m giving the full plot here, I’m really not. This is definitely a skeleton version of the story, and I’m purposely leaving out certain plot points, especially the ending.
What I will say is that both girls do end up being safe, but both of their worlds have collapsed around them, and they never would have thought that they would have survived it with each other. They barely knew each other, and were complete and total opposites and had vastly different ideas of each other.
I would say that this almost seems to be a ‘friends met along the way’ story but it… ends pretty abruptly. We’re left on major cliffhangers for both girls and how different their lives will be after the events of the night including if they actually end up being friends afterwards. We’re left with so much gaping open afterwards that I actually had to check multiple times to see if I was missing any sort of prologue.
I remember reading a bit before starting this book about the origins of the story and it’s actually pretty upsetting. The general conception of the book came around the unrest that happened around Freddie Gray’s death in 2015 that broke out into a mass disturbance. It was shown on the news that multiple schools and busses worth of children were trapped within the riot and no one seemed to be able to rescue these kids or find out if they were okay/how they ended up being okay. Kim Jones and Gilly Segal were both mothers at the time this happened and were very upset about the situation and all they wanted to figure out is if the kids were okay. This general concept of kids surviving during a massive civil unrest is how the book idea was formed.
Despite that this book was nice because it was a quick and easy read, it definitely also had me very engaged. Multiple times after I had stopped reading it or hadn’t read any of it for the day, any time my mind wandered I found myself thinking about the book, wondering what was going to happen next or what I would do if I was in some of the situation that either girl was in. I even found myself getting a little teary eyed when we get more detail on Campbell’s constantly being abandoned, because hoo-boy do I have some similar experiences.
This book is also, I’d say, a good beginners conversation starter about race. With Lena and Campbell, the book is more about perspective than anything, but obviously encompasses race. I’ve already seen this book being used as a tool to start those conversations with teaching staff, parents, and their kids. One part that was really powerful to me is the first wall of police that the girls see. While Campbell has this ‘oh thank god’ relief reaction and is about to walk towards them, she looks over to see that Lena is almost in a catatonic state of fright, and is barely able to shake her out of it before she freaks out and immediately moves them both away from said police. The same with each girl’s reaction to protests.
This is a great quick read, and I’m excited for both authors to have their own individual works to come out, though I’d even say I’d be happy if there was some kind of sequel so we learned more of what happened or how they’ve matured after their circumstances and had their perspective changed.
I give I’m Not Dying with You Tonight 4/5 destroyed concession stands