Daelyn Rice can’t be left alone. Following her most recent suicide attempt, her well-meaning parents have her on suicide watch. They follow her when she goes for walks, pick her up from school, and monitor her online computer use. Daelyn has found a way around them, though, with a website called Through-the-Light.com, which promises to evade detection by the kind of monitoring programs that her parents use. Through-the-Light also promises something else: to give users contemplating suicide a discussion forum, frank advice, and a countdown clock to their own date of death.
Daelyn is obsessed with suicide but just not sure which method will provide the best combination of minimal pain and maximum effectiveness. Her earlier attempts obviously didn’t work --- she’s still here, isn’t she? --- so she needs a better way. Through-the-Light gives her plenty of material to work with.
As Daelyn counts down the days to her appointed “Date of Determination,” she recalls the events that have led to her current state of despair and desperation. Daelyn, who is overweight, has been bullied her whole life, ranging from fat jokes to a sexual attack by a group of boys in a school bathroom. She has been physically and verbally abused at “fat camp,” made the object of cruel pranks at school, and ignored or pitied by teachers and school administrators.
Just one thing is getting in the way of Daelyn’s single-minded progress toward a successful suicide attempt: a boy named Santana. He’s kind of a pain, engaging her in ridiculous conversation when all she wants to do is escape into the pages of the latest romance novel. He’s also kind of weird --- he has a pet rat, for Pete’s sake --- and extremely persistent. It turns out that Santana has a secret of his own, one that might change Daelyn’s perspective on life --- and death.
Julie Anne Peters is not one to back away from painful or controversial topics. With BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD, she confronts the very current issues of bullying and resultant suicide (sometimes called “bullycide”) head-on. Her novel is a brutally honest, completely credible depiction of a girl at the end of her rope, who will do just about anything to escape her body, her pain, and her misery once and for all.
Although it comes with a brief afterword that lists resources and provides suggestions for combating bullying, the book itself offers few concrete answers to this epidemic; in fact, it is frankly critical of some peer “mediator” programs and other in-school initiatives. But that ambiguity and complexity --- illustrating a problem without feeding readers an easy answer --- is exactly what might enable it to make a real difference. By creating an artfully crafted, achingly true, painfully thought-provoking work of literature, Peters has given readers something real to consider.
BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD should be required reading for those who have been bullied (who will know the truth in each of Daelyn’s words) and for those who have been bullies (who might see for the first time the true consequences of their actions).
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 17, 2011