Warning review contains spoilers
Favourite Quote: “She should have told you, but I understand why she didn’t. Why no one did. It would have changed everything, made it something else, something tragic and heartbreaking when it wasn’t any of those things – not until now. And knowing the truth, it would’ve been everywhere – in every gesture, every thought, every moment. You wouldn’t have known what was real and what was because she was dying. What you’ve shared is real and nothing can take that from you – not even the truth.”
If I Tell You is a coming of age story set in a rural Australian town. A small-minded town where homophobia is rampant. A book can be many things to different readers, and for me, Phoenix’s story was much more relevant than that of the story of Alex the narrator.
On the surface, Phoenix seems a superficial character. A girl who is brazen about her sexuality and determined to have a good time. So much so, that throughout several conversations, Phoenix gives Alex some not-so-delicate nudges to come out. Viewed in isolation it could seem as if Phoenix was trying to shame Alex, but Phoenix is a far more complicated character – She’s also a teenager living with a time bomb.
Many reviewers have expressed their surprise at what they have perceived as a plot twist with the reveal of Phoenix’s illness in the closing stages of the book. Yet Tuckerman has cleverly woven the groundwork into the core of Phoenix. The knowledge of her impending death taints all of Phoenix’s actions.
Phoenix’s motivations were abundantly clear to me early on. Although I didn’t know why she was dying, I was never under any doubt that she was dying. Perhaps it was because Phoenix spoke my language. The differing view of the world that comes from living with an expiry date hovering over your shoulder. The things we don’t take for granted, the way we avoid or brush off questions about the future. And the way families in this situation embrace every moment because they know that one day all too soon those moments will be gone.
But most of all I understand Phoenix’s reluctance to tell Alex. It’s a thought that sits at the back of your mind as you wonder time and time again if now “is the best time to tell”. Occasionally telling can bring its exquisite joy and a deeper relationship, but for the majority of times, a confession about the expiry date hanging over your head is a death knell.