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If I Should Die Before I Wake, by Han Nolan

May 20, 2009

ifishoulddieThis book is about about a troubled girl named Hillary, a contemporary American who hates Jews.  Hillary has always felt out of place socially, but now she has joined a neo-Nazi group in her small town, and she has a skinhead boyfriend. Finally she feels like she belongs, until she gets in a serious motorcycle crash and has to go to a hospital, where she drifts in and out of a coma.  Her roommate is an elderly woman named Chana, who is also unconscious.  While in the coma, Hillary becomes Chana as a young Jewish girl trying to survive in the midst of Hitler’s invasion of Poland.  While Chana/ Hillary endures the horrors of the Holocaust, Hillary begins to understand the errors of her ways.

I rated this book a perfect ten out of ten because of the dialogue, the superb character reflection, and its theme of tolerance.  It’s one of the best books I have ever read.  An author that I would compare Han Nolan to is Eli Wiesel, because his memoir, Night, is about the same topic, and similar things happened to Eli that happen to Chana. His book is also fantastic.

The narrative voice is in first person for both Hillary and Chana.  I think it makes the book powerful, because I could get inside both of the main characters’ heads, think the way they are thinking, and feel the way they are feeling.  The visual descriptions are also good and so haunting.  Nolan goes into depth, showing what corpses looked like piled up on top of one another and what those still alive in the death camps looked like as well.  The descriptions were so vivid that they gave me nightmares. The dialogue felt realistic, too.  It was the kind of language they would have been using back then.  Nolan makes her characters come alive through their conversations.  For example, the thick Yiddish accent of Bubbe gives her a strong character that I believed was real.

Hillary’s character development is one of the best I have ever read. Over the entire book she develops as a person. When she’s in the coma and each time comes out of it, she realizes a little more how awful her anti-Semitism is.

Every time I picked up this book and started reading it, I couldn’t put it down again. It really made the movie inside my head and made me want to keep reading. The conclusion of If I Should Die Before I Wake satisfied me because it revealed all of the little mysteries that Nolan kept hidden. After I finished it, I felt like it was complete. It ended so perfectly— on a note of hope.


Publisher:  Harcourt, 320 pages

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