Friday, August 5, 2011

Review: If I Should Die Before I Wake

"As sixteen-year-old Hilary, a neo-Nazi, lies wounded in a Jewish hospital, she slips into a coma and begins to relive the harrowing memories of Chana-a Jewish girl whose family was brutalized in the wartime ghettos and Nazi death camps of Poland. At the same time, Hilary begins to come to terms with difficult memories of her own. When she wakes, she finally finds herself on the path to recovery from a lifetime of rage and resentment."
-Good Reads
“Chana’s story . . . is brilliantly rendered.” -Booklist

  • Publisher: Harcourt Paperbacks
  • Release date: May 1, 2003
  • Page count: 293
  • Unique elements: The person who hates Jews becomes one in a time travel experience
  • Would appeal to: WWII buffs, fans of The Devil's Arithmetic, fans of Number the Stars, fans of Night
Favorite quotes:

"I fell upon my bed and prayed for emptiness. I didn't want to think, or feel, or hurt anymore. I just wanted to lie there, numb, until it was all over."

"The flowers on my wallpaper turned into these lips with fangs that dripped blood, and the toys and dolls on my shelves became live, breathing spiny creatures that whispered and laughed: You're all alone, there's no one left. No one."

"She kept talking, with her eyes all shiny like silver spoons and telling me about some Gideon Bible in a hotel room and something about suicide, like I knew what that meant."

"It is all any of us are, and without the camouflage of my dreams and possessions, I realized that everything I did, every thought I had, was all I was."

One of my classroom bulletin boards features this book and The Book Thief side by side as recommended WWII fiction.

I go crazy over WWII stories. I've been to Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam. It was so cramped and crowded. I loved teaching Elie Wiesel's Night until it moved down to the ninth grade curriculum. Mostly I think my reading obsession comes from disbelief. The disbelief that humanity could be so cruel, and despite overwhelming evidence, some still say the Holocaust was all made up.

How dare they?

Those people are ignorant idiots.

I love the title, from the prayer little children often say before bedtime. In this instance, it takes on an eerie meaning. Hilary is trapped in someone else's body. She might really be killed before she returns to present day.

This book reminded me very much of The Devil's Arithmetic. Even though I read that in fifth grade, I seem to recall some sort of time travelling experience. Hilary really doesn't care what happens to the Jewish people around. I could feel her hatred seeping from the pages. It was very hard to read the first few chapters and see what her gang did to a poor Jewish boy. Nothing was funny about it. In some ways, I thought back to the pain I expererienced while trying to watch American History X.

Everything changes after a motorcycle accident with her boyfriend. In the hospital, she goes in and out of consciousness. She becomes Chana, a young girl forced from her home and eventually to Auschwitz. Some of the punishments or jobs given to Jews were ones I hadn't remembered reading in other books, particularly when it came to women washing/scrubbing things.

I felt the desperation as Hilary tried to convince herself she was not Chana. That nothing around her was real. But she also feels real hunger pains. She feels sadness at the deaths of friends and loved ones around her. She doesn't want to die, but she's afraid she might have to.

Even her annoying, Bible verse spouting mother can't bring her to wake up from her nightmare.

Powerful. Interesting. Beautiful imagery. Ending I didn't expect.

If you're tired of paranormal or dystopian, pick up this historical fiction.

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