In the YA Diversity Book Club, we chat about the latest YA books that celebrate diversity. Our book club includes Sandie @ Teen Lit Rocks, Kristan @ We Heart YA and Kristina @ Gone Pecan. Each month we’ll focus on one book with a book review (our discussion chat) and bonus features.
Our October book club pick is Una LaMarche’s DON’T FAIL ME NOW. Fun fact- Una LaMarche’s Like No Other was our very first book club pick, and we are so happy to have her back! Don’t Fail Me Now is about Michelle, a high school senior who has a lot on her plate. She’s responsible for her two younger siblings when her mom gets caught with drugs. Now she’s on a family road trip with her siblings and her half sister to get some closure with their dying father. This book is realistic, relevant, and powerful, and a good example of intersectional diversity.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT ALL THE BOOK CLUB FEATURES:
- Sandie from Teen Lit Rocks features an “Author Q&A with Una LaMarche“
- Kristan from We Heart YA discusses “A Tale of Two Families (With One Father in Common)“
Book club member and friend Kristina from Gone Pecan is currently on hiatus and we send her lots of love.
Read on to check out our book club discussion. We talked about the diversity in the Don’t Fail Me Now, the epic road trip, some standout scenes and characters, the romance, and reminisce about our own high school jobs! (The main character in Don’t Fail Me Now works at Taco Bell)
Many thanks to Razorbill/Penguin Random House for providing us with review copies of this book!
About the book:
Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche, Hardcover, 288 pages, Razorbill for Penguin Random House, September 1.
What were your first impressions of Don’t Fail Me Now?
The Reading Date: Strong voice, engaging, powerful story. Michelle had to take on so much at such a young age!
We Heart YA: Intense! I mean, that first scene we’re dropped into at the police station… Yeesh. Nevertheless, I was pleased that the story could deal with heavy stuff yet still be positive, and even laugh-out-loud funny at times.
Teen Lit Rocks: Agree — it was intense and upsetting how much “adulting” Michelle had to do as a big sister and mom and breadwinner all in one.
Don’t Fail Me Now contains the popular road trip plot. What did you think of the group’s adventures on the road?
We Heart YA: To be honest, I’m always drawn to road trip stories, but I find many of them let me down… Happily, this one did not!
Teen Lit Rocks: I’m a real sucker for road trip stories. I love them, and this one was really different. Usually road trips in YA are limited to 2 people for the romance angle, 3 at most (and usually the third person is a temporary third wheel). Five kids in a car? Unheard of! Plus they had no money, so their adventures mostly relied on getting things for free (without stealing) and just surviving another day without getting on one another’s nerves too much.
We Heart YA: Haha, yes, I loved their (mis)adventures, and the fact that it was a fairly large group with a wide range of personalities. It made for a lot of conflict and humor that was very true to life.
The Reading Date: They were so resourceful on the road, especially Michelle. It was a good way for the group to get to know each other.
Bonus points to this book for intersectional diversity! There is a lot of diversity to discuss. Did this novel broaden your perspective in some way?
Teen Lit Rocks: I’m not sure it necessarily broadened my view, but it would definitely broaden most teens’ perspectives, I think. I appreciated how understanding Michelle was of what Leah was going through and how difficult things were for her at her middle school. The fact that they are struggling/working class is also important, because such few YA books deal with low-income characters.
The Reading Date: True, I appreciated the socioeconomic diversity, and the topic of privilege. it was also great to see a character with Type 1 Diabetes and how that played into the story.
We Heart YA: I don’t know that the book taught me anything new, but I think the book does a great job exposing and reinforcing the fact that there are all kinds of diversity and privilege, and that one person can fall into several categories. (And yeah, that might be more of a revelation to younger people.)
We Heart YA: What made me really happy is how organic the diversity felt to the story. The characters seemed like real people to me, and I was just along for the ride.
The Reading Date: Totally agree.
What did you think of the character development? Any characters particularly stand out to you?
Teen Lit Rocks: Obviously Michelle, because it’s ultimately her story. Before I received it, I thought for some reason that it was going to be dual narrative between Michelle and Leah, but I appreciated that it was all on Michelle. She has to carry the story and change and open her heart to new possibilities, to hope, to the fact that she has potential and is worth loving. She does, as Tim points out, have a chip on her shoulder, but who wouldn’t under those circumstances. I thought the author did a great job with all the kids, but I wish there had been a bit more about Leah the way there was about Cass.
We Heart YA: I also thought this was going to be a dual narrative, Sandie! Maybe because LIKE NO OTHER (the other Una LaMarche book we read last year) was? But I’m so, so glad this was just Michelle’s story. I think seeing all of this through her lens was really valuable, and helped to ground me as a reader.
We Heart YA: I actually didn’t want more of Leah; I felt like Michelle came to understand and appreciate Leah over the course of the story, so I was satisfied there. The character I would love to see more of — in a companion novella, for example — is Cass. That girl is a deep well.
The Reading Date: Cass was such a compelling character. I was glad the focus was on Michelle and think there was enough was going on with her without adding another perspective, so that was a good call.
There is a little romance subplot in this book- necessary or not necessary?
The Reading Date: I think this book had so many other good things going for it that the romance wasn’t particularly needed, but at the same time it was nice for Michelle to have something for just herself.
We Heart YA: Agreed. A big part of the story is Michelle learning how to trust and love (besides her siblings) so I think the romantic subplot is a good way of illustrating her progress. Also, Tim is totally the type of guy I would have had a crush on high school, lol.
Teen Lit Rocks: I think it was important to the plot because as Kristan said, Michelle is so closed off to connecting with anyone but her siblings. Meeting and getting to know Tim is a big deal for her, especially since she’s so romantically inexperienced. He’s so eager, earnest and sweet, and I loved that about him. He’s a lovely contrast to Michelle, who always needed to feel in control, but her life was so out of control. But he had also experienced family dysfunction and he expressed real empathy for Michelle. It wasn’t just that he found her attractive.
We Heart YA: Related to that: On the one hand, it’s a little convenient that he could identify so much with Michelle and her mom. On the other hand, it’s all too real that addiction (and other issues) can be found in ALL walks of life.
The Reading Date: OK, you’re both making me more of a believer in the romance and why Tim and Michelle make a great pair.
Did any particular passage or scene stand out to you?
Teen Lit Rocks: The conversations at the hospital stand out to me — between Michelle and Cass, Michelle and Leah, and Michelle and Tim. I also loved the comic-relief that Denny added with his spirited boyness.
We Heart YA: Denny was a dear heart. <3 But he wasn’t a prop, like so many young sibling characters can be. He was fully realized and integral to the story, with his own set of goals and problems.
The Reading Date: There was a scene on the road I think at a Taco Bell when the group is confronted because they match the description of an Amber alert, and a guy accuses Michelle of kidnapping Tim and Leah. The racial profiling and attitude in that scene was uncomfortable and stuck with me.
We Heart YA: To be honest, I devoured this book (because I was enjoying it so much!) so a lot of it blurs together in my head… I highlighted a couple lines though:
It’s maddening to watch someone you love mess up so much, and it’s hard to keep loving them. The resentment just grows and grows until it covers up the love like ivy on a wall.
Maybe it’s not the destination or the journey that matters in the end, but rather who’s there to help you haul your baggage around.
This is our second book club pick by Una LaMarche. How do you think this book compares to Like No Other?
Teen Lit Rocks: Well, obviously this wasn’t a straight-up or forbidden romance, but once again she’s dealing with race in a big(gish) city. She also shows how segregated and divided a city can be, or in this case, Baltimore from its posher suburbs. The girls lived so close to one another but never had an occasion to overlap. LaMarche deals with family issues again, but in a very different way. I guess the main thing is that the romance in Don’t Fail Me Now is really secondary. DFMN is really a family drama, if I were to use movie terms.
We Heart YA: I think I preferred this book over LIKE NO OTHER because of that distinction. I mean, I am a fan of romance in stories — what’s life without love? — but in LIKE NO OTHER, the romance was less compelling to me than the relationship between the characters and their families (particularly Devorah). So I appreciate that family themes got center stage here.
The Reading Date: The family theme does seem to be a strength for this author. Usually I crave romance in stories but with LaMarche’s books there are so many other ideas that spark my interest.
Michelle has a part time job at Taco Bell to earn a little spending money and to help pay the bills. Did you have any interesting part-time jobs in high school?
We Heart YA: Interesting to others, maybe, but not to me, haha. I worked at my parents’ print shop and newspaper publishing company, doing any/all things. Answering phones, designing ads, bookkeeping, bindery… Great experience and education, but .
Teen Lit Rocks: I had a paid internship at the Miami Herald’s neighborhood edition… for Miami Beach. I didn’t have my license and had to take two bus lines to get to the Beach from Coral Gables, where I went to high school. I learned a lot, like the fact that neighborhood editions of daily newspapers are filled with either middle-aged, bitter reporters who resented they weren’t in the main newsroom, ambitious cub reporters who couldn’t wait to move to the main paper, or a couple of dedicated local reporters who LOVED writing about hyperlocal issues. It was only a couple of times a week, so it wasn’t a job I depended on, even though my mom was a widow, and I probably should’ve worked more hours like my older siblings had. I was sheltered and babied as the youngest child (by 10 years).
We Heart YA: As the daughter of a neighborhood newspaper publisher, I can basically confirm Sandie’s assessment of the employee types. ;P
The Reading Date: Both of you had newspaper-related jobs – so interesting! I worked concessions at Grauman’s Chinese Theater during high school (until I started falling asleep in class because of late hours). Summers I worked as an usher at the Hollywood Bowl. My teen loves Taco Bell and would probably like to work there like Michelle.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Teen Lit Rocks: I really enjoyed this one, and I think Una’s honing her craft and getting better and better with each book. Can’t wait to read her next one, since I’ve read 3 for 3!
We Heart YA: Totally agree! This might even be my new fave of our book club picks so far. (Although, shoot, looking back on our archives, we’ve read some really good ones…)
The Reading Date: Since I read this one last month I listened to the audio to refresh my memory. It holds up really well! One of my favorites.
Hope you’ll read-along with us in November as we discuss CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell.
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