Sixteen-year-old Dani is convinced she has nine lives. As a child she twice walked away from situations where she should have died. But Dani’s twin, Jena, isn’t so lucky. She has cancer and might not even be able to keep her one life. Dani’s father is in denial. Her mother is trying to hold it together and prove everything’s normal. And Jena is wasting away. To cope, Dani sets out to rid herself of all her extra lives. Maybe they’ll be released into the universe and someone who wants to live more than she does will get one. Someone like Jena. But just when Dani finds herself at the breaking point, she’s faced with a startling realization. Maybe she doesn’t have nine lives after all. Maybe she really only ever had one.
All These LivesFeatured
Dani never put much stock in her mother’s words until her twin, Jena, is diagnosed with leukemia and they learn her treatments aren’t working. Dani then recalls this moment and a story about how when a cat loses a life, it goes out into the universe for another cat to pick up. Thus begins her journey to lose her extra lives in hopes of her sister gaining one.
“It’s probably why I hate her so much. I never like people like me. ” (5% e ARC)
I don’t either! Dani is not a nice person, but at least she knows it. She’s rude, disrespectful, a bully, and self-centered. However, I got the impression that she wasn’t always this way, so I wasn’t completely put off by her personality. This might just be the way she handles her feelings over her sister’s illness. She also manages to make everything about her: Jena’s breathing is annoying her, she can’t sleep because Jena is vomiting, people don’t talk to her because her sister is sick, etc. While it’s selfish, it’s also understandable. We always hear/read about how the sick person is struggling, and how things are so bad for them, but what about the family? Things are rough for Dani and their parents, so this was definitely an interesting shift in perspective.
“I feel bad. I do. But mostly, I feel dead. I like that feeling.” (38% eARC)
While I did enjoy All These Lives, I didn’t really believe that Dani believed she had nine lives and that maybe one would save her sister. Sure it may have been the one thing she could do for Jena, since she wasn’t a bone marrow match, but it felt almost random. There was no epiphany, no moment that even indicated this is what she truly believed. It seemed like it was just a unique and intriguing plot device, but was a bit lacking. Overall, this is a good book with a really unique premise, so if you’re looking for something a little different, I’d suggest it.
Dani is a serious ball-buster. Put simply, she's a bitch. She doesn't obey her parents, she delivers killer insults to any classmates dumb enough to antagonize her (I LOVE when she tells people off), and she doesn't do her homework. In her desperation and sadness over Jena, she has but one joy in life: flirting salaciously with Jack Penner, nerd. Their relationship definitely was my favorite thing about the novel. They had this awesome, highly awkward dynamic. Plus, you know how I love my nerdy boys!
As bad (or badass) as Dani is, I got the distinct sense that pre-cancer Jena was worse, that Jena was the one who would instigate trouble, and that Dani desperately wanted to be as cool as her fraternal twin. My theory is that as Jena receded Dani began imitating her personality, perhaps to an exaggerated degree, either to inspire Jena to recover or to make her feel as though Jena was still with her at school. However, nothing's really said about how Dani used to be. All you get are vague hints of the past. Trying to piece together life before was definitely a favorite aspect of the book.
All These Lives is about cancer, so I probably don't need to tell you that it's not exactly an upper or a beach read. Much of it is insanely depressing. What I love, though, is that you get to see echoes of the real Jena emerge sometimes on good days. You don't get to see that for a while, and the story definitely picked up when I got to know Jena as a person, not just a pile of blankets. The cast of important characters is very small (Dani, Jena, parents, and Jack), but they're all very well-drawn. It's especially cool that the characters develop throughout the series, both actually and just through Dani's perception of them.
The one thing that didn't work for me was the concept unfortunately. Dani is convinced, because of a joke her mother made when about how they both had nine lives since they survived a couple of accidents, that she really has nine lives. She also heard some folklore about cats having a differing amount of lives and that, when one lost a life, the life could go to another cat. Because of this, she decides she needs to 'lose' her lives, so that her sister can live longer. This just took the whole invincibility of youth thing too far for me. The whole thing was so inconceivable to me (at least in the real world; it might work in a fairy tale setting) that I felt myself drawing away from Dani. I had trouble relating to her, even though I adored her bitchiness, because I could not comprehend her thought process.
Depending on how you feel about the premise, All These Lives could be a much better read for you. Wylie's novel offers a unique lens on dealing with cancer in a loved one. As an added bonus, Wylie avoids YA tropes, and does her own thing. Though this wasn't a perfect read for me personally, I definitely intend to read more Wylie!
The idea about the nine lives, and being able to release a life and have it save someone else is something that I have never heard of. It is interesting how much that Dani, the main character is willing to give up for her sister, pieces of herself with trying to release the lives, emotionally through the relationship they have.
My review wouldn't be complete without talking about Jack Penner. He really made my day. Those nerdy guys really make me as hot as a bad guy with the soft heart towards the love interest when done right, and Ms. Wylie definitely did Jack right. I love how Dani teases him, and his responses, and how he eventually grows into it, and how their relationship goes. I appreciate how he stayed a friend when Dani needed one, even when she tried to push people away.
Although I must say that Spencer and Candy really made me scratch my head. I am not sure exactly their purpose, although I guess I am okay with them being there as plot advancers. Or maybe in my baby and preschooler fried brain I am just not connecting all the right dots.
I also wanted more conclusion from the ending, it felt really open, and I really wanted to know how Ms. Wylie wanted the characters stories to end. I guess, though there is a certain poetic justice to leaving the interpretation of what happens to the reader and basing those conclusions from what we've read so far.
Dani is not an easy character to like as she's actually a bit of a bully. Her snark is always intended to hurt and her sarcasm was constantly used to keep people at arm's length so they couldn't see just how deeply she was hurting. It's only because her actions were so obviously the result of her survivor's guilt - guilt she carries like a weight for being healthy when her sister is so sick and for not being a match when they are fraternal twins - that I was able to look deeper and see a girl who is pushing everyone away to avoid having to face that pain.
"Her expression falls slightly as she senses that my walls are up and she's not nearly strong enough to climb over. Not even today when she is leukaemia's version of Superwoman."
I was able to see a girl who was struggling to keep her head above water, as she tried not to drown in the paralyzing fear of being completely helpless. Feeling lost and broken, her pain is raw and real and vivid and not surprisingly, she doesn't know how to handle it.
I grew to fall in love with her, and her sense of humour and quick wit generally had me laughing out loud. She wore her cynicism like a suit of armour but it was easily destroyed whenever Jena asked something of her. Her love for her family, even when she was mentally rolling her eyes over how they chose to cope with Jena's illness, was so endearing. At first, I couldn't understand why she spent so much time separating herself from Jena, and I was angry with her for abandoning Jena when she needed Dani the most. But I quickly grew to understand Dani's fears of upsetting Jena by saying the wrong thing or by pushing her too hard, worsening her condition.
"How is it possible that I miss her when she's right here?"
Wylie truly knows how to pull on the heartstrings of anyone who has a sibling, and I found myself constantly in tears whenever I put myself in Dani's position.
At first, the references to Dani's nine lives was...strange. Having survived what should have been a fatal accident as an infant, and later a chest infection that should have been too much for her to overcome, Dani believes that, like a cat, she has nine lives. She was once told a story about how when a cat uses one of its lives, it is given to a different cat who might have only had one or two lives. She starts thinking that if she can work her way through her lives, then maybe, just maybe, one of them will make it's way to Jena and make her not just better, but well. I wasn't sure if an element of the paranormal was going to be introduced, or if this was just one of Dani's coping mechanisms.
It did open the door for an amazing path of self-discovery where Dani learns that what matters is that we live while we can.
"Most people think the biggest sacrifice, the greatest act of love you can give is to die for someone. And probably it is.
But sometimes it is the opposite.
The biggest thing you can do for someone is to live."
Her battle with her inner demons and the realization that Jena might need her to live as much as she needs Jena to live, was heart-warming and beautiful.
The secondary characters were all well done, and I LOVED how prominent both of Dani's parents were - not only in presence but with their interactions with each other and with Dani. Dani's friendship with Jack was adorable - her refusal to look at him as anything other then a friend because he might iron his jeans, or even worse, his underwear, again had me laughing out loud. I wanted to hurt her when she purposely hurt his feelings, or tried to embarrass him, but I loved that he eventually stood up for himself and called her out on certain things when on one else would.
All These Lives was a wonderful read. Once you get over Dani's abrasiveness, you can't help but sympathize with her and her family. Wylie has written a compelling look into a side of cancer that we don't often see and readers won't be able to help being touched by it's sincerity.
ALL THESE LIVES is much different than I thought it was going to be. The story and the premise remind me slightly of Imaginary Girls (and so does the cover!), but there were quite a few differences. The plot was actually existent in this book, not shrouded in gorgeous writing as was the case in IG. The sisters are much closer in this book and much more relatable.
Dani Bailey is a fraternal twin, and her other half, Jena, has cancer. Dani has been different all her life because she has nine lives. Or, she did have nine lives. She lost some when she got in a car accident and caught an infection in her chest. To cope with the pain of losing her sister, she goes out and rids herself of all of her extra lives, hoping they'll fly out into the universe and hopefully toward someone who needs/wants them more than her, like her sister.
ALL THESE LIVES is a very original story, and when I say original, I mean original to me. I've never read a book where a person had more than one life. It wouldn't suffice to say the subject of the novel intrigued me. The book starts off with a bang of a prologue, explaining how it feels for MC Dani to die. From there, I was hooked.
One of the subplots of the book is Dani's acting career. She's trying to land a lead in a toothpaste commercial, and Jena's progressing death is conflicting with her dreams. Everything Dani feels in the book is so realistic, it's almost as if you're right there. I've never known what it's like to lose someone you truly love (I've been very fortunate) besides a distant family member, but if I was losing my other half, I know what I'd feel, and it's exactly what Dani is feeling.
The writing of the book is good. A few solid gems are interspersed throughout, a few emotional lines that feel like punches in the gut.
I definitely know I'm going to add this to my real-life shelf when it is released in a few short months!