I'm Not Dying with You Tonight
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.
Lena and Campbell have some rotten luck, finding themselves stuck in the thick of two different riots that combine to throw Atlanta into chaos one Friday night. The cause of the first: a white guy calls a black guy a monkey when they're in line for concessions at a high school football game--the same game where Lena is spectating and Campbell is working concessions. They manage to escape the school and reluctantly stick together to find Lena's less-than-great boyfriend Black (he'll give them a ride home), but they end up at the center of the second riot while doing so. It began as a peaceful protest of the governor, who called black people "colored" in a speech, and the poor response of law enforcement to that protest led to violence.
I'm Not Dying with You Tonight is an unstoppable read with breakneck pacing that perfectly captures the chaotic situation Lena and Campbell are in as well as how it might feel to be on the scene of a riot. It's something impossible to imagine and truly understand unless you've been there, but Jones and Segal paint a vivid picture.
It's likely readers will devour the book in one sitting, but that pacing comes at the cost of characterization. Campbell is a clueless racist white girl who gets some measure of growth, but readers who are tired of seeing characters like her may not be patient with the story of yet another white girl learning to be a little less racist. Lena is already a fantastic character, but she doesn't change much. The intriguing stroke of complexity her boyfriend gets toward the end serves to highlight Lena's lack of growth.
Then the novel's abrupt ending leaves one with the hollow feeling of a story that wasn't quite done being told. To illustrate the problem, think about how we see the LA riots of 1992. The event is equal parts Before (the murders, police brutality, and anti-Black racism), During (the riots themselves after the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted), and After (the legacy and effects on the community). In I'm Not Dying with You Tonight, some of the Before is detailed and the During is the entirety of the book, but the lack of After leaves the story incomplete. Even when nothing changes in the wake of such events as often happens, how we see the past is determined by every day after. That's how history works.
There isn't much more to say about this book. It's a vibrant, current read with some incredible forward momentum and plenty to recommend it for, but its weak spots are significant. It's odd for me to finish a book and feel like I'm missing part of it, but that's the case with I'm Not Dying with You Tonight.