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Before My Eyes
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Before My Eyes

3.5 4
by Caroline Bock
 

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In Caroline Bock's Before My Eyes, Claire has spent the last few months taking care of her six-year-old sister, Izzy, as their mother lies in a hospital bed. Claire believes she has everything under control until she meets a guy online who appears to be a kindred spirit. Claire is initially flattered by the attention but when she meets Max, the shy state

Overview

In Caroline Bock's Before My Eyes, Claire has spent the last few months taking care of her six-year-old sister, Izzy, as their mother lies in a hospital bed. Claire believes she has everything under control until she meets a guy online who appears to be a kindred spirit. Claire is initially flattered by the attention but when she meets Max, the shy state senator's son, her feelings become complicated. Working alongside Max at a beachfront food stand is Barkley. Lonely and obsessive, Barkley has been hearing a voice in his head.

Narrated in turns by Claire, Max, and Barkley, Before My Eyes captures a moment when possibilities should be opening up, but instead everything teeters on the brink of destruction.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/11/2013
Bock returns to the Long Island setting of her critically acclaimed first book for teens, LIE, as the lives of three young people intersect over a weekend. Claire’s mother has had a stroke and is in rehab, upending her family. Barkley, 21, has serious psychological problems, has bought a gun, and is sending threats to a state senator. Max’s father is that senator, and Max is having a miserable summer between his father’s reelection campaign and his own nascent addiction to painkillers. Bock’s story unfolds as an hour-by-hour account of the Labor Day weekend before Claire and Max’s senior year, told in three alternating points of view. Bock’s prose is fluid and resonant, and her characters fully realistic, although the clipped narration they share makes their voices sound overly similar. A sense of dread and the threat of violence hang over this gripping novel (the book opens with Barkley pulling out a gun at a campaign event for Max’s father), as do the failings of parents, friends, and society. Ages 14–up. Agent: Rachel Sussman, Chalberg & Sussman. (Feb.)
VOYA, February 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 6) - Kate Neff
Three young adults from very different backgrounds—Claire, Max, and Barkley—all get to tell their side of the story in this novel about the events that took place over one long, hot Labor Day weekend. Claire is forced to do a lot of growing up during her summer off after her mother has a stroke and Claire is forced into the role of mother and caretaker for her father and little sister. Max, who has always been a “good kid,” has become addicted to his father’s pain pills, but has to be the perfect son while his father runs for senate. Barkley is going down a dark path filled with obsession, voices in his head, and violence. All three of their lives intersect at the beach on Labor Day weekend, and they impact each other in ways they would never expect. The story moves quickly through the use of alternating narrators, and the tension builds as Barkley’s mental state worsens. The book will appeal to most readers, and could be especially helpful to teens who find themselves in a dark spot in their lives. It may make some readers think twice about the people they know, and the strangers they meet, forcing them to take more time to get to know people for who they really are—not just the façade they wear for the rest of the world. Reviewer: Kate Neff; Ages 15 to 18.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-20
The final moments before a disturbed young man sprays bullets into a crowd at a political event form the opening of this grim but intelligent novel. The worlds of three teens overlap at the end of a summer that has brought unwelcome changes into their respective lives. Max, the privileged but miserable son of a state senator, meets and can't get out of his mind a thoughtful, grieving young woman named Claire, whose beloved mom is hospitalized following a stroke. At the same time, Max's co-worker Barkley, who writes crazed political missives to Max's father, has begun to hear a voice directing his actions and has also spotted and become obsessed with Claire. Alternating narratives in the first person by each of the three at times seem to go on a bit too long, given that it's clear from the beginning what the outcome will be. Claire is the most likable, and readers will appreciate her lack of cookie-cutter edges, both in her physical description and in her emotional ups and downs as she takes care of her younger sister largely on her own. Max is less sympathetic, at times frustratingly self-absorbed, but is also clearly struggling. And Barkley, adrift in an increasingly violent storm of mental illness, is deeply troubling. Gripping, disturbing and nuanced. (Fiction. 14 & up)
From the Publisher

“[a] gripping novel.” —Publishers Weekly

“[an] unflinching thriller.” —Bookpage

School Library Journal
02/01/2014
Gr 9 Up—The summer before his senior year, Max, 17, is disillusioned with his New York state senator father and ambitious mother. He has grown tired of and dissatisfied with his planned-out life and doesn't quite know what his next step should be. He works at the Snack Shack at a Long Island beach, where he is surrounded by a motley crew, including his strange coworker Barkley. Max just wants the summer to be over. Seventeen-year-old Claire has her own set of problems and has had to grow up quickly. Her mother had a stroke, leaving Claire to keep the house, cook, watch over her younger sister, and share money woes with her father. All she wants is to be understood. This summer, Barkley, 21, has reached his limit and gives in to his darker nature and the voices he hears in his head. Over a Labor Day weekend, Claire's, Max's, and Barkley's lives come together. The three are forever changed when Barkley brings a gun to a political event. The first-person narrators speak with unique voices, and their tales entwine to create a compelling story. Bock has crafted a suspenseful and intense novel that is sure to keep readers turning the pages.—Elizabeth Jakubowski, formerly at Watervliet Public Library, NY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250045584
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
02/11/2014
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
1,382,777
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)
Lexile:
HL630L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Before My Eyes


By Caroline Bock

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Caroline Bock
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-04558-4


CHAPTER 1

Barkley

Monday, Labor Day, 9:58 A.M.


Mark the date. Labor Day. Monday. Nine fifty-eight in the morning. Today I am a lens, a pen, a gun.

Less than a half hour ago, my mother attempted to block my exit. Said I couldn't have the car keys. She had made a doctor's appointment for tomorrow for me and used that as an excuse for why I must stay in my bedroom. I am twenty-one years old and will not listen to her any longer.

I cannot get many places without a car on Long Island, but I could get here.

At the Lakeshore Community Park, one mile from my house, my fingers are slick inside my sweatshirt. Flowers crumple along the sidewalk leading into the park. The grass runs brown and rough under my sneakers. Water restriction signs are posted on trees.

No lake exists in Lakeshore. It never did.

A crowd forms outside a white tent. The flaps of the tent are secured, the space enclosed. Beyond the tent are playgrounds in bright, primary colors: Red. Yellow. Blue. Bleary in the heat are empty tennis and basketball courts. At the far end are baseball and soccer fields, equipped with sprinklers, lights, and electronic scoreboards. It has been a hot, dry, long summer. I am sure I am not the only one pleased this season is coming to an end.

Yet I move up to the tent with a light step. I slept last night for the first time since April — from midnight on, a dead, dreamless sleep.

My eyes dart left and right. I must focus. Straight ahead. Concentrate — and act. I must wait no longer for an answer from the state senator to my letter, my e-mails, and my texts.

Tilting my head, I listen and am met with a ferocious silence. The smell of ozone burns in the air. Rain must be on the way.

I cannot do this alone. I listen, harder. Hear: the whir of insects. My fingers twitch. My skin crawls. I need a cigarette. A cigarette. Coffee. Claire.

I inch behind an old couple, short, withered, gnome-like. They each hold the hand of a girl, five or six years old, with shimmering blond hair, dressed in pink, a tank top with beads and sparkles. This pink is a sign. She is more than a girl. She is a living warning that I am being watched.

Nevertheless, without the voice, I am lost.

In front of me, the old man trips over a tree root. Before he stumbles headlong into the tent, my left hand flies out and catches him. I help him upright. I am nodding at him, the grandma, and the girl. I must breathe. Fix my sunglasses. Push up the sleeves of my sweatshirt. Jam both hands back into the pockets.

Careful.

I latch onto the voice. The voice is with me, faint but nevertheless here. My heart races.

Your deeds will be blameless and wise.

I grin until the edges of my face hurt. The taste of metal singes the back of my throat. I strain to hear. Dig my nails into my palms, cut through the skin, lock the grin in place. I am here to act. To make State Senator Glenn Cooper understand the crucial need for immediate action.

Only you can do this. Be neither of proud heart nor shameful lies.

Out of the corner of my eye: Long legs edge the parking lot. Waist-long brown hair is in focus. She is more woman than girl. She looks lovely. I spin that word around in my head: lovely. But she is not Claire.

Sweat beads along the back of my head, down my neck.

"You must be baking in that sweatshirt," says the grandmother. "Going to be hot, hot, hot again today."

I shudder.

"I'm going to the beach after this," says the girl. She tugs up her shirt, revealing a bathing suit, pink with sparkles as well. "I'm going to the beach. To the beach." A singsong voice. "I can see myself in your sunglasses." The grandparents beam, nudge her forward.

I know it is a sign. I must be here. The future is here. Violence is both a noun and a philosophical construct. I embody the noun — and the construct — and if I am violence, and I am good (which I must be), then violence must be good or in the purpose of the greater good since my only purpose is to do good. I am wrapped in goodness, an invincible light. My cape. My shield. No one can hurt me. This is my day.

ESTABLISHING SHOT: Lakeshore Community Park. Present day. Morning.

The voice sifts through the white noise and directs my vision. I am the lens. The pen.

MEDIUM SHOT: A flyer taped to the front of a white tent reads "Annual Labor Day Community Fair, ten to two o'clock. Meet State Senator Glenn Cooper."

PAN: Across the parking lot, the volunteer fire department arrives with a display of lights and horns. Minivans and SUVs filter in through the haze and circle like fish in a pond. On the grass, next to the tent, energetic elderly ladies scoot around tables for the League of Women Voters and for the Lakeshore Public Library. The Boy Scouts of North Lakeshore and South Lakeshore roughhouse behind opposing tables. A police car rumbles in and stops alongside the boys. The police officer, freckle-faced, slumping sleepy-eyed at the wheel, finishes his coffee and salutes the scouts.

CLOSE-UP: On the seat next to the officer a gift with a big bow around it. Pink.

LONG SHOT: Survey the crowd like a kingpin, like the top dog. Beam with confidence in the lazy morning light. Own the present and the future — and CUT.

CUT.

I blink and squint. Before me, a neon-pink suit strides out of the white tent unexpectedly. "Hi, I'm Debbi Cooper. Hi! I'm Debbi Cooper. Hi! I'm Debbi." She charges at the crowd, shaking hands, saying that her husband, the state senator, and her son are making a few last-minute preparations. "It only should be a minute or so until we are all inside." She is so glad that we have all come out on this Labor Day. She calls a few people by name, says her own again. Offers hugs. Mentions the weather. The lack of rain. The wish for rain. "But aren't we all so, so glad that it isn't raining right now?"

I thrust my hands even deeper into my pockets. I can smell my odor, life-affirming. No water has touched me in weeks, since I was suspended from school in April. Water burns.

Debbi Cooper rushes on to the old couple and the girl, embracing all three. Pink flashes. After a few seconds or more — time has slowed, the sun is beating down on my shaved head — she is asking us all to stand on a special line, if we would like a photograph with the state senator. Only in New York do you stand "on line." I do not approve. Quick enough, she click-clacks back into the white of the tent.

The top of the tent drifts with a vagrant wind. Next to me, a plastic bottle of water is raised to eager lips. I am thirsty, too. Nevertheless, I will not violate myself with plastic.

Bodies shuffle forward. These people do not understand the need for order. The smell of ozone intensifies. I itch. I need a cigarette. A cigarette. Coffee. Claire. I am lost. I want to go back to my bedroom.

Careful. Walk in a perfect way. Smile. Good. All is good.

Finally, the voice is clear and bright and willful. My right hand circles the Glock in my pocket. I stand straighter. Grin harder.

CHAPTER 2

Max

Monday, Labor Day, 9:59 A.M.


The tent in the community park grabs the scent of summer, overripe, wilting, a waiting-for-the-end smell, and I've been waiting all summer for summer to end.

Not that I want school to start. I want senior year to be over, too. I want it all to be over, and something else, something new, to start. I feel like I'm walking through a dream, a muggy, muddied one that will never end. But it has to end. School starts in two days, senior year, soccer season.

My mother strides back into the tent, closing the flap behind her. "Tuck your shirt in, Max. Focus. We have a big morning. You look so handsome in that shirt." I hate the shirt I'm wearing, a polo that she bought for me, a pink polo, boy-pink, she argued. I don't tuck it in.

I kneel down and pet King. He's jittery. He sniffs my hand, licks my fingers. I bury my face in his dog smell.

"Hey, how's it going, Max?" My dad struts through the tent opening like he owns the place, and he does. He owns it. He paid for the tent; the red, white, and blue balloons with his name inked on their sides; and the number-two pencils with his slogan slashed across them: Glenn Cooper. Vote for your neighbor.

Send the regular guy back to the state senate. The decent father and husband. The neighbor who sends his kid off to a summer job, washes his own car (or makes his son, me, do it).

"Can I have your help here, Max," he says. It isn't a question. He expects my help. I'm the permanent, live-in volunteer for Glenn Cooper. He waves pencils at me.

"Max, I need your help," says my mother.

I stand between them, even make a funny movement like I'm being pulled in opposite directions. Neither of them laughs. They train their "disappointed" looks on me. To be quickly followed with their "when is he going to grow up" shaking of the heads at me.

"We have a crowd outside," my mother says instead. "A hot, thirsty one. I hope those bottles of water are staying cold."

She's spent the entire summer working on my father's campaign, speaking at one event after another in her candy-colored suits and high heels. I spent the entire summer being asked, "Is that bottled water cold?" and dragging myself back to an empty house.

"Deb, please," says my father. "What are you worried about? Let's look like we're enjoying ourselves, okay?" My father is a tall, trim man, over six feet, and he's wearing dark blue khakis and a light blue shirt with rolled-up, I'm-getting-to-work sleeves. He swings his arm around her, jostling her, teasing her. "If you can't make it, fake it, isn't that what you always say?"

"You don't take anything seriously, Glenn."

Now he's laying out the pencils with his name in view in row after row. My mind chatters over this name — Glenn Cooper, Glenn Cooper, Glenn Cooper, like it belongs to a carnival barker — until my mother turns to me and asks, "What do you think, Max?"

"What? Water's cold enough."

"This is not about the bottled waters," she says.

I shrug. I try not to think too much these days about anything.

"See, your son's not worried, either," says my father. "You're the only one worried about those crazy e-mails."

"What e-mails?" I ask.

"Don't worry. It's nothing," he says to me. "Anyway, we should have a cop here."

"Where is he?" she asks. "Or she?" Because my mother never misses a chance to pound home that a woman can do anything a man can, as if I didn't learn that from her.

At the back of the tent, two oversized fans throb waves of hot air. We should roll the flaps up, but my father doesn't want to do that until ten o'clock, the official start time.

King whines and flops out on the floor in front of a bowl of lukewarm water. When my parents aren't looking, I'll refill it with cold bottled water. King cocks his head toward me, and even though he can't see me — his blind eyes are watery, weary — I know he knows I'm here. I won't go far. But maybe my mother was right. I should have left him home. I slide my hand down his back one more time, whispering to him, "This will be over before you know it, and then we'll go for a run. I promise." He sinks. My father wanted to put placards on him, reelection signs on his sides. I said no, it was too pathetic, a blind dog begging for votes.

I give King a hug, let him smell me and know that I'm near. He has a bright red bandana around his neck. His leash is tied to the largest table. Little kids love to pet him, and he is gentle with them. Maybe my father will even capture a few "aw, you own a blind dog" votes.

"He's good," I say.

"Better be," says my mother. "Your father is going to pull this election out. Something is in the air. I can feel it."

"Ozone," I say to my father. He fakes a laugh.

"Don't even think that it's going to rain this morning," says my mother, her eyes on the tent flap, her smile fixed. Nothing is wrong. Not in Debbi Cooper's world.

"It's not going to rain, nothing is going to happen from those e-mails or texts, the police will be here, we'll have a great event, and I'll get reelected, how does that all sound?"

"I'm still worried."

"Don't be."

"So what are you doing down there with that dog?" says my mother, turning her attention to me. "Let's get going."

I double-check that King has some leeway on his leash. He is a good dog. He hunches down in his designated space. He sniffs my hand, licks it. I rub his silky ears. He knows how to behave around a crowd.

"I just sometimes think you like the dog better than me or your father," says my mother.

I do.

"Are we going to get to work or what?" says my father to me. "Every other state senator in New York is almost guaranteed reelection. Why not me for a second term? Maybe that should be my campaign slogan, why not me?" He studies the campaign poster. The headshot is a few years old. He looks like an old actor, envious of his younger self. He always said he got into politics because he thought he could make a difference. Even when he ran for the local town board, he said he wanted to take government back from the control of big business and return it to the people. When I asked, what people — the American Indians? — he said I should save it for school, where I was, of course, barely passing American history.

"Look at her. Your mother is one determined woman." He says this to me in a conspiratorial voice as she passes us, concentrating straight ahead, on the tent flap, the exit, the murmuring, curious voices beyond. She hurries outside again, leaving my father and me to finish setting up the tent. We have other volunteers, making sure last-minute signs are in place, handing out leaflets at the local diners. He bends his head, almost knocking into mine, surprised as I am at my summer growth spurt. I pick up more posters to hang somewhere. I could even disappear and say I'm putting up posters, miss this all entirely.

"Most people are probably trying to squeeze one more beach day in even though it looks like it's finally going to rain. We should all be hoping for rain. But don't say that to your mother."

He snaps his face and name out of my hands. "Don't worry about more posters. We have enough of me in this tent."

I agree. I'm hoping he doesn't want me to help my mother. I don't want to shake anybody's hand. I don't want to smile. I don't want to do anything but maybe take King for a walk. Maybe find my way to Claire's end of town. She liked King a lot. I could tell her — what? That I'm sorry. That she owes me nothing. That I'm an idiot. That I didn't mean what I said, or didn't say, or what I wanted to say didn't come out right. But then, maybe she will show up here, and I should stay.

"What did you do all summer, Max?" my father asks, a short-fused, rhetorical question. He knows what I did.

"I learned how to make an ice cream cone." I flatten my voice into its robot-like frequency. "Vanilla, chocolate, or swirl?"

Glenn Cooper made a point of telling everyone he could: his son was working a "regular" summer job. "Max isn't an intern. He's not a volunteer for my campaign, though I love my volunteers. Max is working regular hours at a regular summer job." Glenn Cooper was going to get New York back to work, and it would start with me, at the Snack Shack on the town beach.

I pick up the pencils, neat in their box, and spread them out on a table like an offering to the summer's end, hundreds of pencils, sharpened to tight points, all with my father's name on them, yellow trees in a great, wild forest.

"What are you doing? Are you even thinking? Do you ever think, Max?" my father says as I daydream. "Help me out here, Max. Pay attention to what you are doing. And smile. People like to vote for politicians who smile."

"I'm not running for office."

"We're all running."

He straightens the pencils, destroys the forest. My father is especially proud of the pencil idea — not any pencil, as he pointed out, but the test pencil. The number two. In fact, for the last week he's been obsessed with these stupid pencils, ordering more, insisting that they be sharpened. I don't know what he stands for except for sharpened pencils. "Do you think you can handle that job, organizing pencils in neat rows?"

Reelect Glenn Cooper! Meet him here today! Free number-two pencils for school! My father's face and name surround me. I think I'm going a little insane in this tent. Can you go a little insane? Is that even possible? Can I be sane outside this tent? I wonder if she is going to be here today — could I be sane with someone like Claire? Does it matter? Two days, and I'm back in school, back to my old life, except for Claire. Good thing she's at Lakeshore South, and not with me, not at Lakeshore North. I have to think of what I'm going to do. Of course, I could do nothing. She's not my type. Not at all. I hold up a pencil between my thumb and forefinger as if studying it: the tool of my academic failures.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Before My Eyes by Caroline Bock. Copyright © 2014 Caroline Bock. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

CAROLINEBOCKis the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novel LIE. She currently lives in Maryland with her husband and two children.

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Before My Eyes 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a riveting book. I could not put it down. So vivid and realistic -- a real reflection of the times we live in with gun violence, mental illness and other real issues. After I read it, my 15-year-old also read it and we had a lot to talk about after.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BlkosinerBookBlog More than 1 year ago
    I wanted to read Before My Eyes because I loved the synopsis. It has a sick mom, a girl who is taking care of her sister, a mental illness and drug addiction. All tough issues that even singularly would grab my attention but I had great hopes that together they would be even more powerful.      I know that Barkley is schizophrenia but the style of writing and they way that his head worked really threw me when I first started. I guess that makes it even more authentic since his mind wouldn't work anywhere similar to mine, but the intro we get def made me wonder what the tie between the three are and what would come from the events.      We go back to "before" so that we can discover what happened. I think that works okay because my interest is def peaked for what got Max going and if there's hope for him as well as what happens.       Claire was my favorite probably because it was easiest to relate to her, not only because she is a girl, but because of the responsibility on her shoulders. I see a lot of her struggles in myself both now and when I was her age even though circumstances are different. She had a struggle with how her mom's illness effected the family and if there was anything she could have done to change what happened. She loves her sister, but it is a lot of stuff to deal with when she just wanted to have fun.       Max's story unfolded a little more slowly. We know his father is a politician and kinda strict with him as far as expectations. I got to like him though. He had a lot of expectation, and he is beginning to see that life isn't all black and white, that some of the people he thought was his friends disappointed him, and found friends in the most unlikely places.       It was neat how their stories all wove together, more so than it first appeared. Innocent and then bigger ties to one another through living in the same town their road ran more and more parallel.       The ending was shocking and emotional, but I think that with all of the build up I could expect nothing less from where the book was leading. It felt realistic to me, and though it gave a dark feel to the book, those themes are there all along and even in the synopsis.  Bottom Line: Dark journey into three different protagonists--whose lives are connected even if they didn't know it at first. 
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
I am a huge fan of realistic fiction, and Before My Eyes definitely seemed like a book that I would definitely enjoy. This book is told from three different point of views. We have Claire, Max, and Barkley. Reading the synopsis, we don't get to understand much about what the story would  be about, and unfortunately, I STILL don't get it. When I started this book, it was weird. The writing was different, it took time to get used to it, but I liked it. I even told my sister "It's weird, but good weird, will probably get better." For me, it didn't. I still don't know why I didn't DNF this book, but for some reason I though there would be an explanation at the end of the book. THERE WAS NOTHING. I was so confused. I don't think I liked any of the characters. They were weird, and I just didn't feel like I was able to connect to any of them. My major problem with this book is that it just lacked a plot. The pace of the book was incomprehensible. I just felt like the book was so jumbled up, and nothing ever made sense to me. The book was full of dialogues of stuff that I felt were useless. I tried looking at the bigger picture, I really tried. I just couldn't understand what it was about, and I just couldn't enjoy it. My opinion of this book will remain my opinion. I just wished I didn't waste my time reading it till the end, because all I read could have been summarized in about two chapters. Will I recommend this book to a friend? No. Does that mean you shouldn't pick it up? Of course not! If you end up picking it up, and you end up understanding the "message" behind this book, don't hesitate to tell me.