Review: If I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan

March 31, 2014 Book Club, Book Review, Young Adult 10 ★★★★

If I Should Die Before I WakeIf I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on March 31st 1994
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
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<p>Hilary hates Jews. As part of a neo-Nazi gang in her town, she's finally found a sense of belonging. But when she's critically injured in an accident, everything changes.<br />
Somehow, in her mind, she has become Chana, a Jewish girl fighting for her own life in the ghettos and concentration camps of World War II.<br />
Han Nolan offers powerful insight into one young woman's survival through the Holocaust and another's journey out of hatred and self-loathing.</p>

This is nothing like I typically read. Whatsoever. But a couple months ago I was talking to a woman who helps run the children’s department at my local indie bookstore where we hold our YA Book Club and she talked to me about her love of this book and recommended it for our March meeting and I agreed purely from her passion. I mean, this is what it is about, right? Finding books you are passionate about and spreading the word to all who may listen. Even though I was a little apprehensive to step outside of my comfort zone, I picked this book up and flew through it, for I found something deeply moving and emotional in the pages. It’s hard to rate and review a book so heavily based on actual real events in history that centered around hate and suffering, but I will do my best to get my thoughts across.

We start out in the head of Hilary, a young girl in the hospital. After a motorcycle accident with her boyfriend, she remains in a coma to which they are unsure she will recover from. Hilary is offensive and self-righteous, a white supremacist who gets her kicks terrorizing Jews with a small group of her peers. But as she lays there in the hospital bed, a Jewish Hospital as it turns out, something happens to her. She slips into the mind, the life, of a Jewish girl named Chana during the Holocaust.

As you can imagine, it is incredibly horrible the things Chana goes through. Over the course of the book we watch Chana grieve over the murder of her father, her family being moved into harsh living conditions in the ghetto, and then taken to a concentration camp. We see her family try to hold onto hope where they can. We see her family die or get taken away. And we live those terrible torturous lives right along with her and the other Jews where it is a miracle anyone survived at all. Chana found hope and God tough things to believe in and hold on to and I couldn’t blame her. I’m not so sure I would have the will to go on in those times either. No one was more supportive and driven than her grandmother, Bubbe. Bubbe was everything in this novel. She was oh so strong and courageous, determined to never let her faith go. She was selfless and wonderful, a true angel to all those around her, pushing others to fight to survive. She was the light of this story. Their relationship, beyond compare. I clung to Bubbe and her spirit too, to help me get through the difficult moments of their lives.

I won’t reveal what then happens to Hilary through these visions she had while she is lying in that hospital bed, but I found how it wove together with Chana’s story to be truly amazing and inspiring. I was deeply moved by the emotion in this book. My own emotions were all over the place as I felt so much anger that these things were real. People really suffered so much hate and abuse at this time in history and it is horrible to imagine. I felt sadness and terror too, my heart aching. But in the end I felt
hope. Hope for a better world to come.

In the end, I had a hard time putting the book down, wanting to know what would become of Chana and Hilary. The book is on the shorter side and I was easily able to finish within a day, a pretty good feat for a slow reader like me if that can attest to just how invested I was. I am thankful I gave this book a chance because it taught me so much more about history, had a powerful message, and left a lasting imprint on me.


About Han Nolan

Han Nolan is widely acclaimed for her evocative language, her gritty subject matter, and her ability to plumb the psyche of her characters. Her books include Dancing on the Edge, which won the National Book Award, Send Me own a Miracle, a finalist for the National Book Award, Born Blue, A Summer of Kings, and several other acclaimed novels. She and her husband live on the East Coast.

Sara @ Forever 17 Books

10 Responses to “Review: If I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan”

  1. tonyalee

    This doesn’t sound like a ME book at all. But those are the ones that are the best. That sneak up on you, ya know?

    I’m debating of adding this one. it sounds super good and emotional but maybe TOO emotional for ME. 🙂

    Great review lady!

  2. Tanja

    It’s interesting how historical romance is not something I usually read either. or I though so. So when I read one or two and found myself so deeply connected with it I saw that I was wrong. This book is new to me and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’ll have to check it out. Great review, Sara 🙂
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  3. Joy (Joyousreads)

    Oh wow. You know me, Sara. I’m always trying to push my reading boundaries. I have a feeling I would feel hatred as much as sympathy for this character. There are books that are truly life-changing; and I feel this book would be one of them.

    Thanks for the insight, Sara.
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  4. Lily

    I feel like this one would be just SO outside of my own comfort zone to give it a shot in all honesty here but i’m glad you managed to enjoy this one and gave it five stars. I can tell you really resonated with it. Good for you, Sara!
    Lily @ Lilysbookblog
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  5. starryeyedjen

    Yay for reading outside your comfort zone. I’m still trying to do that, but it’s difficult. I’m glad it worked out for you. Based on the cover and your review, I really don’t think this would be my kind of book, whether it was in my comfort zone or not, though. Great review!
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