For This Life Only
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
A bonfire he had to escape. Ice on a roadway. A night that changes everything for Jacob Palmer. The night his twin brother is killed in a car accident. Jace almost shared his brother’s fate, and in that moment when his heart stopped, there was no light welcoming him to something after. There was only nothing. And now that Jace has survived, he can’t help feeling like fate got it wrong. Eli, the good son, the one who loved everyone around him, the one who made people feel loved, should have been the one to live.
As Jace wrestles with his guilt and the injuries that make his dream of a baseball scholarship an impossibility, his family fractures further. Jace has questions. The kinds of questions a pastor’s kid isn’t supposed to ask. Then he meets Thera and he discovers that perhaps a notorious psychic’s daughter and a prominent pastor’s son have more in common than he could have imagined. But when he stumbles onto Eli’s unfinished business and a dilemma that could destroy his father’s church, Jace realizes he’s facing more than his own questions of faith, but questions of who he is and what it means to do the right thing regardless of who it might hurt.
One of the things I really liked about this book is that it brings faith into the story in a non-preachy way. This isn’t about Jace’s spiritual journey in terms of having a salvation experience or ultimately answering life’s big questions. It’s really only the beginning of that journey in which he begins to take ownership of what he believes.
I liked the genuine conversations that Jace and Thera share. Their relationship definitely felt like one of those life-changing ones, where each person gets to feel seen and truly understood. I liked that Jace’s relationship with his dad is something he continues to wrestle with. That also felt very real, and it was easy to understand how hurtful and frustrating some things between them were. Though this wasn’t my experience as someone raised in a church, I felt like I could see people that I knew in the faces of characters in this story. It definitely captured some of the hallmark fails of church service and politics.
What’s sad in a way is that there isn’t really anyone on the other side whose faith is genuine, who has come through the fire of asking these big questions. I would have liked even a minor character just to kind of nod to the fact that this happens. But it really wasn’t the point of the story, so I can see why the author may have chosen not to show that point-of-view. Jace’s brother is kind of the closest example we have of that, but he’s absent for so much of the story. Overall, I really liked this book. It was a tough read because of how sad the beginning was, but I definitely enjoyed reading it overall.
The central characters felt pretty white middle class to me. Thera may be Greek. Her mother is obese. At one point she talks about what that means to her and how that affects the way people see her and the choices she makes.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.
Kissing and petting between a boy and girl.
Jacob wrestles with questions about faith and what happens after death after a life-changing car accident. Though he’s a pastor’s son, he mostly identifies spirituality with rules and pressure to perform a certain way. He discovers that the local psychic’s daughter also feels trapped by the expectations people have about who she is and what she believes. They share a relationship where they allow themselves to question things.
At one point as he’s beginning to question things, Jacob makes a comment about there not being stories in the Bible about people making active choices about what they believe. I find I disagree. It was a minor point not really central to the story, though.
Overall, this is not a story about who’s right or wrong in terms of faith vs psychic energy vs science. There’s some limited exploration of what a life committed to those principles looks like, but the story isn’t really about finding or losing faith. It’s more about appearances and assumptions and finding the courage to live honestly despite what it may do to the expectations others have.
Jacob sustains some serious injuries from a car accident. Not many details of the accident itself. Two boys get into a fist-fight.
Jacob drinks alcohol at a party with his friends.