Book Review: THINGS I'D RATHER DO THAN DIE (2018) by Christine Deriso
Updated: Jan 6
This is a spoiler-free review of a flirty-and-fun contemporary YA set in Georgia. What happens when two kids are held at gunpoint by someone who's trying to rob the gym? Locked in an aerobics room overnight, that's what.
The Summary (in my words):
What do an agnostic girl and a Christian boy have in common? Surprisingly, they have more in common than being locked in an aerobics room overnight. In order to pass the time, they challenge each other's worldview, asking questions about life and God. Though they may fundamentally disagree on some issues, they discover they have a few things in common, too. It turns out some of the assumptions they've had about each other are wrong. Ethan is more than a star-athlete goody-two-shoes dating the hottest girlfriend in school; Jade is more than the beautiful, brainy, and intimidating girl that chooses her friends closely. After they're rescued from the aerobics room, they wonder if they're truly friends, despite running with different circles at school. Was their connection an illusion or are they falling in love?
The dialogue! It flows well, feels natural, reveals character, and progresses the plot at a steady pace. Jade and Ethan play off each other so well.
THE HUMOR. There were times I burst out laughing. Audibly. Loud enough for the people around me to ask what was so funny. Then I had to sit and relish in what was just said before I could delve back into the book.
The voice. Deriso wrote this book with dueling POVs. She was able to reveal so much character just in the way she had Ethan and Jade narrate the stories. Jade's voice was particularly compelling. I mentioned the humor aspect already, but she's freaking hilarious.
The depth. As the title and the blurb suggest, this book reads on the lighter side. However, this doesn't stop Deriso from addressing some heavier issues. I won't go into detail, but Ethan's home life is pretty messed up. Jade's home situation is fairly solid, but she's coming to terms with her dad's terminal cancer and the fear surrounding her relationship with her stepmom after he passes. While Deriso obviously doesn't make light of these situations (or write them in for the sake of "conflict"), she gives these subplots the attention they deserve, adding depth to her characters and complexity to the plot.
There are also some deep conversations in the book. It was refreshing to see that, despite the superficial, image-driven world of high school, the main characters choose to be vulnerable with each other. That's not something you see often in YA literature or in real life.
"I just wonder . . if I had a real dad--I mean, a decent one--would I need God so much? And if not, what does that say about my faith? It makes it pretty self-serving, don't you think? I'd like to think my faith would be strong no matter what my life was like . . . ." - Ethan
This neatly segways into the fifth notable quality of this book: the Christian representation. As I mentioned, Ethan is a Christian, but Deriso does not portray him in a negative or sophomoric way. On the contrary, he does have flaws. He does have doubts. He does question why he follows some conventions of the Christian faith without knowing why. Just like every human being--Christian or non-Christian.
Jade's family. You know what else is refreshing? Jade's relationship with her dad, her brother, and her stepsister. Since when do families actually love and care about each other in books? In Jade's family, everyone has everyone else's back. There's no backstabbing. There's no lying. There's no manipulating. There's just lots of love and respect.
There are also some really touching but bittersweet conversations between Jade and her dad. I legitimately teared up more than once. Her dad is strong, selfless, gentle, hardworking, and humble. Young Adult needs more good dads like him!
"You don't have to do extraordinary things to live an extraordinary life. Just take your wisdom and compassion wherever you go. The extraordinary part will follow." - Jade's dad
And lastly, THE DRAMA. IT HAD ME ON MY TOES THE WHOLE TIME. I can't say more than that without giving anything away.
What annoys me about this book has nothing to do with the book itself. It has to do with Goodreads.com. Despite loving every page of this book, I decided I may as well read the one and two-star reviews on Goodreads so I could pick a fight and explain how wrong they are.
You know what the common thread of complaints were? The fact that this is a "Christian" book. People admitted to dropping the book a few pages in when they discovered there was a Christian character. Because of course one Christian character makes it a Christian book. I find this extremely ironic, considering this is a book about misjudging and making assumptions about people before you get to know them.
Let me explain it another way: if a book has a gay character, does that make it a "gay" book? I suppose it could, if it's a coming out-story--but can't a gay character be in a book without it being about his sexuality? If the answer is yes, then can't a Christian be in a book without it being a book about his faith? Ethan's relationship with God is merely a fraction of his character.
Here's another analogy: if I told you I refused to read a book because there was a gay character, what would happen? I would be quarantined, criticized, and dismissed without a moment's hesitation (I have read books with gay characters, by the way, including the book I'm reading now). That being said, it drives me bonkers that it's perfectly acceptable to disregard a book just because there's a Christian character. Sounds pretty intolerant to me.
Ranking (out of 5):
* * * * *