Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche | Book Review

I love when young adult contemporary books have characters who have bigger problems then where they are going for their international senior trip or prom. I loved it when contemporary books feel grounded in a reality that I can somewhat relate to a little bit. Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche is one of those sorts of young adult books. It is a road trip book that feels anything but typical. It is not one of those light, throwaway sort of reads that you read on your beach towel and forget about later. Rather, LaMarche’s book is a smart read that explores deeper themes like family, race, and privilege.

Main character Michelle is just barely holding it together. When Don’t Fail Me Now opens, Michelle is sitting at the police station with her sister Cass and her brother Denny. They are waiting for their aunt to come pick them up because their mom has just been arrested for being caught doing heroin in a bathroom. CPS shows up. Michelle knows that she can’t let her family get separated or taken away. Eventually the aunt shows up and the three stay at her small apartment while the aunt tries to charge Michelle an exorbitant amount for rent. You see, Michelle works part time at Taco Bell to fuel her family car, Goldie, and to help cover the family essentials. Anyways, Michelle is very stressed out and so, one day she is at work and this very blonde, very white guy shows up at her register. He tells Michelle that Buck, her father, is dying and that he has something for her. The white guy is Tim and he is the stepbrother to Michelle’s half sister, Leah, who Michelle had never met prior to now. So, anyways, the premise of this book is a road trip from Baltimore to California in the beat up old station wagon, Goldie which is pretty much surviving on a wish and a prayer. The money is tight and the teens must get by on free samples and handouts.

Michelle is the true definition of a fighter. She does not give up even though the odds are completely stacked against her. She’s such a strong character, but she is like that because she has to be in order to survive. There’s still things she is vulnerable about like her family and she has a bit of a fear about the future. She doesn’t want to end up as middle management for a fast food place but that seems like her only option. College isn’t even a given for her, because if she has to keep taking care of her siblings every time her mom gets arrested, well, survival is number one on her mind. I liked that. There’s a gritty realism to Michelle that makes her so compelling.

There is a romance in Don’t Fail Me Now. I actually felt like the romance was probably the weakest point of the book. Tim and Michelle start to fall for each other while on the road trip. They do not have a ton in common, but both have pretty good characteristics and are genuinely people. However, I did not quite buy the romance. It just didn’t seem fleshed out and kind of took away from the whole family story. Really, this book is about more than a road trip to say goodbye to a dying man, it’s about becoming a family and Leah and Michelle and Cass all bonding with each other.

LaMarche does a superb job addressing privilege and class and race in Don’t Fail Me Now. Michelle is biracial as are Cass and Denny. Leah and Tim are both white and come from a privileged background. Michelle thinks differently than Leah and Tim. She doesn’t take anything for granted. She’s tangled with the legal system and CPS. Her life is not filled with people who just want to help her. There are assumptions that are made about Michelle because of her race by other ignorant minor characters in the book. I love this. I love that we get to walk a mile in Michelle’s shoes. I love that this book acknowledges that privilege does exist. I love that it acknowledges that society is not perfect and fair. It’s so refreshing to read about a character who has actual real struggles.

I’ve only read one other book by LaMarche, Five Summers, which was okay. I am putting that out there because if I had judged this book based upon my feelings about Five Summers, I would have missed out on an excellent read. Don’t Fail Me Now is an absolutely daring book. I loved it.

The following two tabs change content below.
April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.

Latest posts by April (Books&Wine) (see all)

About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.

Trackbacks

  1. […] the opportunity to reveal the cover of YOU IN FIVE ACTS by Una LaMarche. After last year’s Don’t Fail Me Now, I am so so so enthused by LaMarche’s writing and how she incorporates characters of color in […]

%d bloggers like this: