Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: All These Lives by Sarah Wylie

SUMMARY: 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.


Affecting, engrossing and beautiful, All These Lives is a novel of pain, heartbreak, and moving forward. With a protagonist who is a perfect mix of reckless and worried, and who will steal reader hearts from the start, this one is filled with voice and emotion. Smoothly written and perfectly built, All These Lives is a stunning and breathtaking novel.

Dani is a firecracker in her own right, filled with life and a bold determination despite the hurt she constantly endures about her twin sister’s illness. Willing to do anything for her sister, and unable to always stay strong in the face of what her family is enduring, there is a gutting authenticity to Dani that is astounding in scope. Aware that her view on having multiple lives is abnormal, but with a steady belief and reasons for why she believes it so firmly, Dani is far from crazy yet playing in dangerous territory all the same. Rough around the edges, and with plenty of flaws of her own, Dani is a very multifaceted, fully fleshed out character.

Through memories on Dani’s side, and scenes both sad and fun, the reader gets a full view of who Jena used to be and is now. Determined to keep pushing, despite the way her body is wasting away from the cancer, there is a deep connection between the twins even they cannot immediately see. Bickering at times, and completely loving at others, the relationship between these two mirrors not only how close they use to be, but reminds readers that even an illness can not completely tear them apart. Still, Dani’s pain towards her sister puts a noticeable strain on the two, yet also gives rise to some fantastic scenes centered around them.

With two parents who are strongly present, each a little flawed but far from bad parents, and a small amount of side characters, this is a very compact cast but each one is well written. From the dad who not only can’t save his daughter but has to watch the woman he loves suffer as a result to the mom who will do anything for her daughter, while also trying not to just completely ignore the other one, Wylie’s character development skills are stunning. Then there’s Jack, an awkward yet charming boy who has his own way of not only helping Dani but worming his way into reader’s hearts as well. With only hints of romance throughout the book, Jack toes the line between friend and more, yet Wylie never lets the focus stray far from Dani’s bigger issues.

The plot is basic yet unique in concept, with a very steady pacing that plays heavily into not only the rough truths of dealing with a family member who has cancer but also Dani’s personal journey in all of it. Beautifully weaving in the multiple lives aspect, and not shying away from the full scope of not only their impact on Dani and her family but the bigger questions it brings up, Wylie has built a striking story.

Also notable about this book is Wylie’s way of infusing tangible emotion into every page, pushing readers to the edge and leaving them raw. From soft and sweet to aching and unflinching, Wylie runs the gauntlet of emotions and reactions, not only from Dani but those around her as well. Wonderfully written and with some spectacular descriptions, Wylie’s writing talent shines as much as her character skills.

Awing in execution and gripping in concept, All These Lives is both beautiful and heavy. With a feisty and exceptionally well done protagonist, readers will not only rally behind Dani but feel as though they are right there with her every step of the way. Memorable and impacting, All These Lives spins a new twist on a family member having cancer and the pain that comes with it.

Source: ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review 
Reading level: Ages 12 and up 
Hardcover: 256 pages 
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: June 5, 2012


  1. I haven't heard much on this book surprisingly, but your review makes me want to read it right now!

    Jenny @ Books to the Sky

  2. Okay, so I read every single word of that review. This book just sounds so affecting and heartfelt. I cannot wait to read this book! Wonderful review, very well written. :P