Rating: 5 stars
Una LaMarche does interracial romance wonderfully as she aptly demonstrated in “Like No Other,” and she doesn’t fail us with “Don’t Fail Me Now.” This new story is a tale that will grab the reader from the very first scene.
It’s about Michelle, the oldest daughter of a drug user (whose African-American parents were righteous church-goers; her father a preacher) and her white husband who led his wife into a life of drugs. Michelle’s mother is still in a tragic cycle of drug use, arrest, trying to stay off drugs to take care of her children (Michelle, her sister Cass and young brother Denny), and relapse.
Michelle knows that her father left the family for another woman, and that he has another family somewhere. What she didn’t realize is that the family is right in Baltimore. When her half-sister and the half-sister’s stepbrother show up at the Taco Bell where Michelle works part-time trying to help out her family, she is shocked.
She is more shocked when Leah, her half-sister, tells her that their father, Buck, is dying and wants to see them. He has an “heirloom” to give Michelle. As it happens, Michelle’s mother was just arrested for dealing drugs, and Michelle is frantically trying to keep her siblings with her and not have child services separate them. So she decides, in an insane moment, that they should all travel across the county to California, where their father is in hospice, to see him.
So begins the cross-country trip with the three African-American kids and the two suburban white kids — all related in some crazy way. LaMarche does a masterful job having the relationship bloom between the kids while still keeping each person’s personality distinct and unique. While Michelle has preconceived notions of what the “white kids'” life is like, she finds that things are not always what they appear to be.
There’s humor, adventure and lots to enjoy in this story of a cross-county journey and coming to terms with ones roots. LaMarche leaves the reader thinking about how in spite of socioeconomic differences, we are all the same at heart. But at the same time, our differences also sometimes define how we think and act. Lots to discuss, lots to think about in this story that would be a great middle school or high school read.
Please note: this review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Razorbill, for review purposes.