A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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.
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