Title: Don't Fail Me Now
Author: Una LaMarche
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Source: ARC from Publisher
Michelle and her little siblings Cass and Denny are African-American and living on the poverty line in urban Baltimore, struggling to keep it together with their mom in jail and only Michelle’s part-time job at the Taco Bell to sustain them.Leah and her stepbrother Tim are white and middle class from suburban Maryland, with few worries beyond winning across games and getting college applications in on time.Michelle and Leah only have one thing in common: Buck Devereaux, the biological father who abandoned them when they were little.After news trickles back to them that Buck is dying, they make the uneasy decision to drive across country to his hospice in California. Leah hopes for closure; Michelle just wants to give him a piece of her mind.Five people in a failing, old station wagon, living off free samples at food courts across America, and the most pressing question on Michelle’s mind is: Who will break down first—herself or the car? All the signs tell her they won’t make it. But Michelle has heard that her whole life, and it’s never stopped her before…Una LaMarche triumphs once again with this rare and compassionate look at how racial and social privilege affects one family in crisis in both subtle and astonishing ways.
I first read a book by Una LaMarche last year and immediately knew after I finished that I would be reading anything and everything she writes. So when I heard about Don’t Fail Me Now, it was a no-brainer: of course I would read it. And, unsurprisingly, I loved it.
Michelle is used to taking care of Cass and Denny, her younger sister and brother. It’s what she’s had to do for most her life. It’s never been easy, but this time, with her mom in jail once again, Michelle isn’t sure what she’s going to do to keep them all afloat. That is until Tim and Leah walk into her life. With them comes the news that Michelle’s deadbeat of a dad is also Leah’s father and now he’s dying and wants to see his girls before it’s too late. And so the five of them cram into Michelle’s old station wagon, hoping that the car will make it all the way to California from Maryland. And even if the car does make it, there’s no guarantee everyone in it will still be sane by the time they get there.
Last summer, I loved Una LaMarche’s Like No Other. To make the same horrible joke I did at the time, the book really was unlike any other that I had read or had been reading around that time. And after reading it, I made the unsurprising decision that I would simply have to read whatever Una LaMarche wrote next. And Don’t Fail Me Now absolutely did not fail me (I really need to stop with the bad jokes/puns based off the titles) when it came to being an engaging and touching story. I loved this story, the way it shows how two people who share DNA can grow up in completely different circumstances. Uma LaMarche really succeeded in showing this by contrasting Michelle and Leah’s lives. Sure, they shared a father, but they had completely different lives, in large part because of their skin colour. Una LaMarche simply does a fantastic job showcasing diverse characters and it’s something I’ve loved about both books of hers that I’ve read. And though I love me some romance, one of the things I loved most about Don’t Fail Me Now was that the focus wasn’t really on the romance. Yes, there was a bit of a romance going between Tim and Michelle, but that wasn’t the point of the story nor was it the focus of the story.
I have so much respect for Michelle. I mean, this girl has had it rough. More than rough, even. But through it all, she still did her best and made sure that her younger siblings were okay and that there family was going to make it through. There were times when it definitely wasn’t easy reading her story. Like when they all had to go stay with a certain aunt who I very much wanted to punch. So for pretty much the whole book, I wanted her to finally catch a break. But at a certain point, it started to seriously feel like that wasn’t going to happen. Pretty much everything that could go wrong for her was, and though at times there were situations that made me laugh, I just wanted Michelle to get through it all in one piece. Outside of Michelle’s struggles, I loved the family dynamics at play in Don’t Fail Me Now, whether it was between Michelle and the siblings she’d had her whole life, or with her newfound half-sister and said half-sister’s stepbrother who she really had no relation to. Put five people under the age of 18 in a car for a cross-country road trip and it’s bound to get interesting.
Una LaMarche’s Don’t Fail Me Now absolutely was the engrossing and touching read I had hoped and thought it would be. With this book, LaMarche has just reaffirmed the fact that I’m willing to read pretty much anything she writes in the future.