Published by William Morrow on March 6, 2018
Source: the publisher
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Reminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben—with a dose of Big Little Lies or Stranger Things—an absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense from the author of the highly acclaimed and Edgar Award-nominated What Remains of Me and the USA Today bestselling and Shamus Award-winning Brenna Spector series, in which a seemingly open-and-shut police case with a clear-cut hero and villain turns out to be anything but simple.
Late one night in the quiet Hudson Valley town of Havenkill, a distraught woman stumbles into the police station—and lives are changed forever.
Aimee En, once a darling of the ’80s pop music scene, claims that a teenage boy stole her car, then ran over another young man who’d rushed to help.
As Liam Miller’s life hangs in the balance, the events of that fateful night begin to come into focus. But is everything as it seems?
The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. But is Wade really guilty? And if he isn’t, why won’t he talk?
Told from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints—Wade’s mother Jackie, his younger brother Connor, Aimee En and Pearl Maze, a young police officer with a tragic past, If I Die Tonight is a story of family ties and dark secrets—and the lengths we’ll go to protect ourselves.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
“By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.” The prologue in If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin is comprised of a Facebook post. Jackie’s son Wade posts what appears to be a suicide note on his mom’s Facebook account and it receives 1,043 likes (what is wrong with people?). Chapter One begins with narrative starting from five days earlier.
It took me a few chapters to take in what was happening and to sort out the cast, but once I did: I really fell into this story. This is the type of story that I read late into the night. A “just-one-more-chapter” read. By the time I got back to the place in the story where the Prologue fit, I had completely forgotten about the Facebook post-suicide letter. I was so engaged in what was going on, I had forgotten that part was ahead. I love when that happens.
Wade is a quiet, artistic 17-year-old high schooler that has been accused of a carjacking that resulted in the death of classmate Liam, who was a popular, student athlete. There are witnesses, including a semi-famous woman
who is an unreliable narrator that was just passing thru town, with seemingly no apparent stake in the case whatsoever. As the story moves forward, evidence begins to turn up against Wade and it is quite damning. Wade doesn’t seem to be helping his case, either. He isn’t providing much in the way of an alibi: he was indeed out around the time of the crime, but he doesn’t want to say where or with whom. He certainly looks guilty. The vast majority of the small-town community are quick to point fingers and condemn Wade, even as his mother pleads for justice, even while his younger brother continues to defend him, even though there is one cop committed to seeking out the truth.
I liked the mystery-crime-suspense aspect of this story. I liked the way everything unfolded slowly because it gave me time to absorb the details and try to form my own conclusions (they were wrong!). I also liked the way the these characters were well-formed and easy to visualize. I wouldn’t necessarily call them easy to connect to, but I think that is to be expected. Jackie (Wade’s mother) is desperate to exonerate her son, the student body is like a pack of hungry wolves trying to find someone to blame, and the detectives on the case-well, they have individual issues of their own. I was invested in this case the entire time and by the end, I didn’t see the reveals coming (especially two of the major reveals, WOWZA). I felt super satisfied with how this story ended up.
More than the mystery and crime aspect, the relationships between these characters resonated with me. Jackie’s relationship with her sons stood out. Here is a mother that is doing everything she can to protect her children at one of the most stressful and vulnerable times in their lives, and she is disheartened and devastated to find out that she knows almost nothing about them. As more evidence is discovered, Jackie realizes that she is disconnected from the lives that her children have with one another and with their peers. Certainly, this is understandable in the age of social media and digital defices, but in Wade’s case, this is particularly harmful. Jackie wants so badly to help him and has such a hard time doing that. Jackie’s relationship with her dearest friend Helen was also one that moved me in multiple places throughout the story, particularly with how much we can truly trust the people we love the most.
I feel like I could talk about this book for a while. There is a lot to pick apart and discuss in here. If I Die Tonight would be a great book club choice or buddy-read pick. It was a great chance for me personally to reflect on parenting and social media and trust. The end shocked the heck out of me. I read it this time as if Wade, the accused high schooler, had the most at stake. Don’t get me wrong – he probably did. But now that I’m finished and I know everything, I realize that all of these characters had huge things going on and this certainly played on how they made their decisions and how they treated the people around them.