I fell forward as it left my hands. The petite, perky Barbie who’d been spying on me, Kara or Keira or Kayla from the desk beside me, had come over to help and was pulling the other end. We slid it over and locked the wheels so that its 15-foot expanse served as an extra layer of protection from the shooter or shooters in the hallway. I tilted my head at Barbie in silent thank you and then gestured over towards the door and the crumpled Miss Jones. I raised my eyebrows and motioned to her to follow me so we could check on the teacher. We scooted down the board and were startled by what we discovered.
Miss Jones was keeled over sideways, clutching her stomach. Her eyes were closed and she was as still and pale as a porcelain doll. Barbie got to her before I did and grabbed Miss Jones’s hand to check for a pulse, giving me a thumbs up and a brief smile when she found one. Miss Jones was alive, a small mercy.
Barbie motioned to me that we should drag Miss Jones back towards the windows and away from the hallway side of the room and she lifted her up under her armpits. I hoisted the teacher’s limp legs and we awkwardly carry-dragged her, laying her down under the windows, a river of red trailing behind us. I then clambered over to Jace’s desk and yanked his jean jacket down off of it while muttering “useless a-hole” under my breath.
While his classmates were bleeding out, or frozen in terror, or trying to save their teacher, big tough Jace was playing some sort of pointless game on his cell and finishing off the last bite of a CLIF Bar. If we were in this for a long haul, I’d make sure Jace was the last one hauled out of this room.”
Author Cate Carlyle takes her readers into Southwestern High School on a Monday morning when everything is locked down due to a shooter in the building. Amid the moments of tension and terror, Ginny tries to help her good friend Owen and the substitute teacher, Miss Jones. To her surprise, Kayla – one of the “barbies” – offers to help, and the two young women take control and do what they can to keep their classmates calm – and alive.
Ginny is a strong and resourceful main character who overcomes her own fears and biases in order to help people around her. She is not a typical heroine by any means, and readers learn that her self-doubts and anxieties have led her to cut herself. But when she needs to be strong, Ginny steps forward and does what needs to be done.
Although the novel is quite short and covers a time span of only a few hours, the tension is palpable in this young adult novel. Students hide under their desks for safety. Talking is in hushed tones only, and cell phone ringers are turned off. More than once in the novel, the students realize the shooter is right outside their door, and the tension and terror mount accordingly. Young adult readers will be kept on the edge of their seats and may well want to finish the entire gripping story in one sitting. Like the parents and community members waiting outside, readers are nervous and frightened until the situation is resolved.
The obvious theme of #NotReadyToDie is school shooters and the violence in and around educational institutions. While Carlyle does not give readers particularly gruesome or gory descriptions, neither does she sugarcoat the situation. The threat of violence in schools is very real, and novels like this will enable students and teachers to discuss and address such problems.
Ginny is a changed person by the end of the story, making this a true coming-of-age novel where the main character evolves into someone stronger and more self-assured. Carlyle asks readers how they would react in a similar crisis by showing students who find hidden reserves, students who break down and students who do their best to distract themselves. The terror of thinking death may be imminent reminds Ginny of conversations with her dad and his advice about making the most of every day and living life to the fullest.
During the ordeal, Ginny makes a list of what she will try to accomplish if she survives. She shows readers the importance of atonement and attempting to make things right with the people around her as well as the necessity of forgiveness and moving on with life. By showing that her characters learn such valuable lessons, Carlyle has provided important teachings for her readers.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and classroom teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.