I wish Before My Eyes was a book of pure fiction, one that was set in a far-away fantasyland that didn’t mirror reality in the slightest. But, it’s not. Before My Eyes, by Caroline Bock, is a story that comes at a poignant time. Bock’s fictional story feels close-to-reality as it weaves a tale of first romance, infatuation, and illness with a story of parents and their children and how they can do right and wrong by them. It’s a story of bravery and cowardice and misunderstandings. It’s a coming-of-age story based around one very focal point, a town shooting, committed by a young, schizophrenic man named Barkley.
The reader not only sees inside of Barkley’s head, feeling both horror and a shred of sympathy as we read the thoughts of someone who has struggles with a disease he’s not even fully aware he has, but we see the thoughts of a girl he becomes attached to, Claire, and the thoughts of his co-worker, Max. His co-worker shares the same romantic feelings that Barkley has for Claire, weaving a complicated tale.
Bock switches from POVs effortlessly, never missing an important detail. The novel takes place during one summer and pieces from each character make up the timeline; we see Claire struggle to raise her little sister and come to terms with her mother’s stroke. We see Max struggle to quit a prescription drug problem and move past bullying ex-best friends and join a new circle of misfits before high school begins. And we see Barkley struggle the most, he wants to do what he thinks is right and rid the Earth of “pollution,” forever giving in to the dark voice he hears in his head.
The character’s paths cross multiple times, each time bringing up new emotions. Barkley wants to protect Claire from his master plan. Max saves Claire from drowning one day at the beach. Claire talks with Barkley over the Internet, he comments on her poetry, published on her blog. It’s not until Labor Day, that their paths’ cross one final and fatal time. The story both begins and ends with the Labor Day shooting at a political event, and the early introduction of the climax shapes the story to become a more character-driven, intense read.
Before My Eyes is a dark coming-of-age novel and one that should not be skipped over. The characters were written with poise and care; all three have flaws that are called upon to further the story. You get mad at their actions but feel empathy for them all the same. It takes a brave YA author to get inside the mind of a shooter, and most of the time it’s hard to read when we are seeing from Barkley’s point-of-view, but it adds a layer to the novel and a fullness of story and the empathy we need to make it to the frightening end. If the story took place from one character’s POV only, it would lack the maturity and complexity that Bock has created in Before My Eyes. The novel is both page-flipping and “gripping” and slow, a roller-coaster of character-driven drama that spans a long summer.
Before My Eyes is not a beach-read or a light summer romance, but is a YA novel that has something to say and will make you think long after you’ve read the last page.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (February 11, 2014)
Pages: 304 (Hardcover)