Daelyn has tried to kill herself before, on multiple occasions, and she bears the physical and emotional scars of her failed attempts. This time, however, she’s determined to succeed, and a new web site she stumbles upon provides both a place for her to discuss her experiences with bullying and information and encouragement to help her achieve her goal. But, as the countdown to her Date of Determination progresses, Daelyn begins to wonder whether she’s as unchangeably alone as she’s always thought.
By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead is a difficult book. I’m not sure it would be accurate to say that I enjoyed it on any level, but I nonetheless felt engaged and curious as to how events would unfold. The very things that make it an uncomfortable read are the things that give it such a sense of realism.
Daelyn is detached from her surroundings and the people around her and this distance is skilfully portrayed by Peters, who gives her protagonist an unusually-closed first person voice. As I was reading, the psychological term ‘dull affect’ kept running through my head. It is difficult to empathise with Daelyn because she holds the reader at arm’s length, just as she does with her parents, Santana and her fellow students. In contrast, the gestures of the people who love her and who are reaching out to her seem particularly clear.
I think the discussion of bullying and its effects in By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead is extremely important. I believe suicide should be talked about as well, although the shopping list of methods seemed as though it could act as encouragement to a reader who was in a similar place to the protagonist. As an adult, I was able to question whether Daelyn’s perceptions were correct, or greatly influenced by her mental health issues. I am not sure whether younger teen readers would be as quick to search for flaws, which is why I feel that this novel is better suited for an upper secondary level. It would be an excellent book to study in a class situation and a very good one for parents to discuss with their teenagers as well.
By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead is not a fun book, nor an easy one. But it made me think and had enough depth that I questioned what I was reading and what it meant. In a young adult market that is dominated by fluff, that’s a welcome change.