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I'm Not Dying With You Tonight

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
I'm Not Dying With You Tonight Book Poster Image
Girls forge friendship amid night of rioting in deep novel.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The characters have realistic, respectful discussions about racial issues affecting their community. During these conversations, the authors introduce current events without being heavy-handed.

Positive Messages

A true friend is a person who has your back. True friends can come in surprising packages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The book includes sensitive, nuanced portraits of types of people who are often racially stereotyped: financially struggling white people and members of poor, black communities who have what are usually called "middle-class values." It also shows caring, involved men heading families -- one black grandfather and one white white father.

Violence

The story takes place while there's rioting and lotting in the streets. There's talk of a shooting that's happened, and a scene where one friend threatens another with a gun. A teen boy gets slammed to the ground and beaten by the police. There's nothing gratuitous or too graphic.

Sex

There's one kiss and a passage where a girl has sexy but not explicit or graphic fantasies about kissing and touching her boyfriend. 

Language

Very infrequent, mild profanity: "Damn" and "dumbass."

Consumerism

A few minor mentions of brands, such as people describing the preferences in cellphones and mentions of large chain stores in the city.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I'm Not Dying With You Tonight, by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones, is about two high school girls in Atlanta, one black and one white, who must depend on their wits and each other to make it home after fights break out at their school football game and rioting and looting break out in the streets. The girls don't start out as friends, and they struggle to understand each other across the same racial divide that's causing all the violence. The bulk of the story takes place during a riot. There's talk of a shooting that's happened, and a scene where one friend threatens another with a gun. A teen boy gets slammed to the ground and beaten by the police; there's nothing gratuitous or too graphic. The book contains very infrequent, mild profanity: "Damn" and "dumbass." There is one kiss and a passage where a girl has sexy but not explicit or graphic fantasies about kissing and touching her boyfriend. 

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What's the story?

When I'M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT begins, Lena and Campbell are gearing up for their home football game at McPherson High School, which is predominantly black, against Jonesville High School, which is predominately white. Campbell is a white high school senior from Haverford, Pennsylvania. Her mother had to take a job in Venezuela, so Campbell moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with her father, who owns a modest hardware store in an unglamorous section of town. Lena grew up in Atlanta, in a mostly black neighborhood. Her family is well-off compared with many of her friends' families. Lena's infatuation with an older guy, an aspiring musician who works in a tattoo parlor, causes conflict between her and her grandfather. After the game, fights break out at the school, with things escalating to the point that someone gets shot and the police come onto the scene. The two girls escape the campus but find themselves in the middle of a protest that's quickly turning into rioting and looting. They're forced to rely on each other and navigate their differences to survive the night.

Is it any good?

This is a wonderfully sensitive portrayal of the intense relationships that can develop between teen girls. Debut authors Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones made the masterful choice to make I'm Not Dying With You Tonight first and foremost a deep story about the evolution of a friendship. The plot and setting cover racial misunderstandings, divorce, financial problems, and the rollercoaster of teen romance. However, the heart of the book is the way two strong girls bring out the best in each other when the world crashes down around them, and boyfriends, parents, teachers, and the police can't, won't, or just don't help.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the meaning of friendship in I'm Not Dying With You Tonight. Lena and Campbell come to admire each other, despite their differences. What are the key turning points in their relationship? How does their friendship compare with those among Marcus and his group, and Black and his group.

  • Lena and Campbell alternate chapters to tell the story. How did that influence how you understood the story? Which one of them do you think was the leader, and why?

  • What do you think of the behavior of the police throughout the novel and how the authors depict the officers?

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