Buy Before My Eyes
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Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Reviewer: Melissa on April 10, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
From the acclaimed author of LIE comes a powerful young adult novel about a fateful summer in Long Island and the lives of three young people who will never be the same again once it’s over. Daydreamer and poet, 17-year-old Claire has spent the previous few months taking care of her six-year-old sister, Izzy, while here mother lies in a hospital bed following a stroke. Claire thinks she has everything under control…or at least more or less…until she meets “Brent” online. Brent seems to be a kindred spirit, and she’s flattered by the attention he gives her at first. However, her feelings become complicated when she meets Max, the awkward state senator’s son. Max, also 17, has worked at the beachside Snack Shack, which qualifies as the worst summer job ever, so maybe that’s part of the reason he’s been popping painkillers after a back injury earlier that year. Since his parents are focused on his father’s re-election campaign, they fail to see what’s going on in his son’s life. Working alongside Max all summer is Barkley, 21, who is a lonely and obsessive college dropout. In addition to working at the Snack Shack all summer, he’s been hearing a voice in his head, and no one – not his parents, nor his colleagues – realizes that he’s suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, until the voice orders him to take out his gun. In Before My Eyes, Caroline Bock has – once again – brings a dark reality to life from the perspectives of three young people in a way that you won’t soon forget.
Back in 2011 when Bock published her debut YA novel, LIE, I was really impressed with the way she weaved a variety of perspectives, from teenaged and adult characters who live in a small community, to give readers an inside look into the systemic way racism can grow and fester to the point where two, young Hispanic people can not only be viciously attacked, but also protected by the community. Therefore, when I heard about her latest novel, Before My Eyes, I knew that I had to check it out, and I’m very glad that I did. Once again, Bock offers multiple POVs from three very distinct voices to tell a story that takes place over the course of Labor Day weekend. Starting on Monday, Labor Day at 9:58 am at Lakeshore Community Park, readers will be immersed completely in both the characters voices and settings to the exact minute in time that they occur. In some chapters, this means that the next POV will occur within moments of the first, but in others, there is half an hour or more between when one POV ends and another begins. In either case, the reader will have the sense of really being there and seeing the events through the eyes of Claire, Max, or Barkley as determined by Bock. Most interesting are the scenes where two or three of the characters lives collide because through these moments, the reader is able to get a clear idea of what each character knew and when they knew it. In a book like this one, this is an important writing decision because without it, it would be harder for the reader to suspend their disbelief that Claire and Max didn’t noticed something terribly wrong when they interact with Brent and Barkley.
Beyond the fact that Claire, Max, and Barkley each speak with very distinct voices, the things that struck me most was how alarming Barkley’s interior monologue is and how the novel’s structure makes the reader invested in the outcome from the beginning. From the very first paragraph, Barkley put me on edge when, in the third sentence of the novel, he says: “Today I am a lens, a pen, a gun.” I had no idea what he meant about being any of those three objects, at least not yet, but by saying that he’s a “gun,” I was certain that this wasn’t going to go well. Bock slowly increases the sense of being unsettled in the second paragraph of the novel, when Barkley mentions his mother trying to stop him from leaving the house, or even his bedroom, that day because he has a doctor’s appointment the next day. By the time I’d read the first three chapters, I was increasingly certain that destruction is imminent, and I knew that both him and Max are somehow connected with Claire, both of which hooked me into reading more. And of course, Bock’s ability to hook me early on is a good thing because it made me more invested in understanding how the earlier moments in the weekend played out, and it made moments where she establishes the back-story for the MCs more relevant to the current events and establishing the character’s state of mind. Finally, Bock’s use of literary allusion through quotations in both Claire’s and Barkley’s perspectives was an added bonus for this one-time English major.
If I had to give any criticism it would be in the last chapters where the explanation of paranoid schizophrenia felt a little heavy-handed and gave me the sense that the novel changed gears quite abruptly. That said, I think this is an incredibly, moving novel that made me and the characters ask questions about perception, what we both see and miss in our daily lives, and why we sometimes miss key indicators – whether it’s because of denial or being focused on other things in our lives.
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