Before My Eyes

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Before My Eyes Book Poster Image
Unsettling look at mental illness and a political shooting.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Claire quotes famous lines of poetry; there are references to several writers, including Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, William Wordsworth, and Lewis Carroll. Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis has a strong role in the plot. An author's note directs readers to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for supportive resources.

Positive Messages

Personal responsibility -- where it starts, and where it ends -- is a central theme, along with the importance of not letting personal dramas cut you off from the larger world. Claire blames herself for not coming to her mother's aid sooner, though her mom credits her for saving her life. After the shooting, Claire and Max question why they didn't notice the warning signs and realize they were too wrapped up in their own lives to take in the bigger picture. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Trish has confidence and a generous spirit, despite the negative attention drawn by her weight. She's aware of Max's drug issue and tries to help. Barkley's parents care deeply about him and want to help, though they fumble badly. Claire's mom is both practical and compassionate, and shows the grace of accepting what you can control and not punishing yourself for what you can't. Claire chafes against the unwanted responsibility thrust upon her but takes it very seriously.


The book opens with the immediate prelude to a shooting, which is described in the dramatic penultimate scene. The shooting scene plays out over several pages, focusing on the drama and emotion of the moment. A young girl and her grandparents are among the many victims. Earlier in the story, a teenage bully taunts two workers at a snack shop, one of whom is sneeringly called a "sped" (for special education), and a vicious fight ensues. A character nearly drowns.


Max sizes up the girls in bikinis and fantasizes about them, and there's a passing reference to "jerking off." There's a strong sexual subtext in a scene involving two peripheral characters, and two other characters kiss.


There's a sprinkling of vulgar language, not unusual for older teens: "a--hole," "dammit," "pissed," "f--kin'", "s--t," "hell," "jerking off," "get laid," and "tits."


A few brand names are mentioned: Lysol, Jeep, Explorer, BMW, and Xanax.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Max uses prescription drugs both to deal with back pain and to numb his emotions. Barkley sells drugs to finance his plans but doesn't approve of them and actually makes a weak effort to get Max to change his mind. Max's father is concerned that his prescription medication is disappearing, and Max recalls getting drunk on beer with his friends at his 16th birthday party. One of Max's coworkers finds his pills and discards them in an effort to help. ​

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Before My Eyes explores the events leading up to a shooting at a political event; it refers to the 2011 Arizona shooting that left six dead and gravely injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. One of the three narrators is schizophrenic and obsessed with good and evil. Another feels culpable for her mother's debilitating stroke. The third is a teen boy who's preoccupied with girls' bodies, admiring thin girls in bikinis and recoiling from his obese coworker. Body image is a strong theme for other characters, too: The plus-size coworker is well aware of how people view her, one of the moms is obsessed with how she looks, and the female narrator is insecure about her appearance and hurt when she's told she isn't pretty. Later being told she's beautiful is important in her story.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 14-year-old Written byCAROLINE BOCK April 18, 2014

Before My Eyes -"Gripping" "Thought-Provoking"

"The thought-provoking story broaches such topics as recognizing signs of mental illness, caring for the mentally ill, gun control and the difficulties of... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byella.holst August 25, 2016
"Before My Eyes" by Caroline Bock is a novel that makes you think about how easily you can let mental illness affect your life, it causes you to do th... Continue reading

What's the story?

As summer draws to a close, three young people in a Long Island beach town are on a collision course. Claire, 17, feels robbed: A summer she should've spent enjoying the beach and falling in love is spent caring for her 6-year-old sister and her father as she tries to fill the void left by her mom, who's recovering from a stroke. She finds comfort in her poetry and is intrigued when a mysterious reader named Brent calls her to talk about her online writing. Max, also 17, is counting the hours until he ends his miserable Snack Shack job. He feels shackled by his father's reelection campaign and has starting popping pills to get through the days. And Barkley, Max's coworker, is methodically planning an act of violence that will horrify the community -- but it makes perfect, brilliant sense in his distorted mind.

Is it any good?

BEFORE MY EYES is a thought-provoking read offering no easy answers. Caroline Bock's three protagonists are all deeply loved but feel isolated, and that sense of isolation leads them to make poor decisions and miss opportunities for real connection. The three interwoven narratives remain distinct, following events in sequence but from different viewpoints. The opening chapters make clear that tragedy is in store, but that doesn't diminish the sense of dread that builds to the climax.

The difficulty, however, is that only one of the three main characters is appealing. Barkley's narrative peeks into the mind of a man undone by mental illness but doesn't offer much for readers to empathize with. Max's resentment is understandable, but his attitude toward others is off-puttingly narrow and grating. Claire's essential warmheartedness and relatable frustration are a welcome relief. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Claire, Max, Barkley's parents, and others fail to recognize the severity of the situation until it's too late. Are they at all to blame for Barkley's actions? 


  • Why is the story told from three perspectives? How would restructuring it -- perhaps eliminating Barkley's view or telling the entire story in Claire's voice or one of the parents' -- affect the story?

  • How would you respond if you received a phone call from someone like Brent? Families may want to review our videos on Internet safety and privacy and educational materials on safety and online relationships.

Book details

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For kids who love stories of teens facing big challenges

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