If I Die by Rachel Vincent combines supernatural creatures, high school and romance with teenage girl Kaylee Cavanaugh’s quest to make the most of her life by rescuing her classmates from danger before her impending death.
The opening lines create mystery and the promise of things to come:
“I used to think death is the worst thing that could happen to a person. I also used to think it was the last thing that could happen. But if I’ve learned anything from surrounding myself with reapers, and living nightmares, and my fellow bean sidhes, it’s this: I was wrong on both counts….”
These opening lines prompt questions such as:
What does the character now consider worse than death?
What can happen after death in this story (or what does the character believe can happen after death)?
What are “reapers”, “living nightmares” and “bean sidhes”?
Why has the main character surrounded herself with reapers, living nightmares and bean sidhes?
The answers to these questions are sprinkled throughout the first few chapters and beyond. Some of these answers will be apparent to readers of earlier books in Rachel Vincent’s Soul Screamer series but If I Die stands still stand alone for readers coming to the series via this book. Meanwhile, the main problem to be tackled in the story is introduced: an incubus posing as the main character’s math teacher is enchanting and feeding on the desire of her classmates):
“What are you doing here before the warning bell?” I asked, sliding my feet into first period algebra II with four minutes to spare. “Isn’t that one of the signs of an impending apocalypse?”
“If so, this is how I want to go out.” Emma Marshall sighed, digging the textbook from the bag on her lap. “Enjoying the view.”
I followed my best friend’s gaze to the front of the class, where Mr. Beck – hired in the wake of Mr. Wesner’s untimely demise – was writing math problems on the white board with green ink. His numbers were blockish and completely vertical; he had the best handwriting of any teacher at Eastlake. But Emma’s focus was several feet below his numbers, where the jeans encouraged by the new “Spirit Fridays” policy proved that Mr. Beck was much more dedicated to physical fitness than the average high school faculty member.
“And I suppose your sudden interest in math is purely academic, right?”
Her grin widened as she set the book on her desk, and it fell open to the place marked with a fat, purple-print emery board. “I don’t know if ‘pure’ is totally accurate, but I haven’t figured out how to entirely avoid academia in the school setting. I think the most we can hope for is something pretty to look at, to distract us from the inherent pain of the educational process.”
I laughed. “Spoken like a true underachiever.”
Emma could have been a straight-A student, but she was satisfied coasting by on effortless Bs, except in French and math, the only subject that didn’t seem to come naturally for her. And the hot new math teacher had done nothing to improve her grades. Thanks to the aesthetic distraction, she was less inclined than ever to pay attention to what was written on the board and in the book.
Kaylee and her boyfriend’s needy ex-girlfriend Sabine are the only girls immune to Mr. Beck’s charms. The second chapter establishes that Kaylee’s name is on a reaper’s list to die in eight days. Previously, Kaylee’s mother sacrificed her life to remove Kaylee’s name from a reaper’s list, but second extensions are not allowed. This sets a time limit for Haylee to rescue her classmates, including her best friend, as well as do everything she wants to do before she is scheduled to die. Add to this a side-kick in her boyfriend Nash’s brother Tod, a reaper, with the simmering potential for a love triangle to break out, and you’ve got plenty of conflict to fuel a novel.
Rachel Vincent’s writing style is accessible and told with a clarity and which will please many teenage and young adult readers. It deals with widely relatable themes such as love, death, friendship, danger, desire, and right against wrong. If I Die deals with teenage characters having to face serious life and death stakes, while also navigating their relationships with friends, family and loved ones.
There are moments where characters contemplate the deeper questions of life, but these don’t slow down the pace. This kind of contemplation is always tied to the motivations of the characters in relation to the main action and never far removed from a popular reference familiar to young readers.
The following excerpt gives an indication of how these elements come together:
…“Why do you even care if I sleep with Nash?”
Why did I care that he cared?
He turned to stare out his window again. “I just assumed you’d have something a little more meaningful on your last to-do list.”
And that’s when I realised he had no idea why we were breaking into Lakeside. Not that it’s any of your business, but this little field trip we’re on has a purpose. I’m hoping a psych patient named Farrah Combs can give me the information I need to get rid of the incubus posing as my math teacher so that he can’t either kill or impregnate my best friend after I’m dead. Is that noble enough for you?”
Tod blinked. Then he blinked again, clearly stunned. “Yeah, actually. That’s more like what I thought you’d be doing.”
“Well don’t read too much into it. I’m not a saint and I don’t want to be. I just want to be normal. I want to have fights with my dad, and secrets with my best friend, and sex with my boyfriend. But most of all I want not to be dead in a few days. I’m not done living! And I can’t fit everything I want to do into the next ninety-six hours, and no matter how many dying wishes I make, that’s not going to change. And I hate it!”
Tod laughed, and my teeth ground together as I swerved smoothly onto the exit ramp. “Why the hell is that funny?”
“It’s not. It’s just a relief to hear you sounding less than rational and perfectly accepting of your own death. For a while, it looked like you were going to ‘go gentle into that good night,’ or whatever, and that’s not you Kaylee.
I glanced at him, brows raised in surprise. Tod rarely ever expressed what I expected to hear, but poetry was new, even for him. “You like it better when I ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light?’”
“I like it when you ‘rage, rage’ against anything. It makes you look fierce and… alive. The blues in his eyes started to swirl. And if you tell anyone I quoted Dylan Thomas, I’ll… Well, I won’t have to do anything, because no one will believe you.”
The light ahead turned red, and I slowed to a stop in the left turn lane, then laid one hand over my heart and gave him a cheesy wide-eyed double-blink. I will take your secret to my grave.
“I wish you didn’t have to.”
“Yeah, me too.” My chest ached just thinking about it.
You can read more about Rachel Vincent and her fiction at www.rachelvincent.com.
The Australian Literature Review