Before I Wake by Robert J. WiersemaBefore I Wake by Robert J. Wiersema

Before I Wake

byRobert J. Wiersema

Paperback | June 12, 2007

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They say there are three sides to every story. Yours, mine and the truth. In Before I Wake, debut novelist Robert J. Wiersema cleverly introduces a multitude of voices to tell this astonishing story of loss, redemption and forgiveness. And the truth? Well, when miracles start happening around Sherry Barrett, a three-year-old girl in a coma, explanations of a rational kind no longer seem important.

Injured by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street, Sherry Barrett lies in a hospital where her doctors say she will never wake up. Her distraught parents, Karen and Simon, make the painful decision to take her off life support. But when they do, Sherry spontaneously begins breathing on her own, the first of many miraculous events to occur.

Henry Denton, the driver who struck Sherry, is haunted by the accident and attempts to take his own life, only to be saved by an unexplained force. Sherry’s nurse discovers that the little girl has the power to heal. When word of her gift leaks, the sick begin lining up to be saved and a mysterious stranger sets his sights on vanquishing the believers and the Barretts.

Before I Wake delicately brings together grandiose leaps of faith with the fragility of every day moments. There’s a fly-on-the-wall quality in Wiersema’s observations, as his realistically flawed characters struggle with guilt, self-loathing and belief while they go about their daily lives. The novel’s fractured narrative style is propulsive and unexpected at every turn, and succeeds in raising questions about times of great faith, and what happens when they happen to the most unlikely of people.

“I believe in miracles — we see them around us all the time,” Wiersema says. “I believe in not having the answers, in there being forces beyond our understanding.”

From the Hardcover edition.
Robert J. Wiersema has always been a storyteller. As a child growing up in Agassiz, B.C., the term was something of a euphemism, as he had, for a time, an unsteady relationship with the truth. In short, he lied. He would lie about anything, anytime. And the funny part was, it never worked. He was always found out and always had to bear...
Title:Before I WakeFormat:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8 × 5.21 × 1.06 inPublished:June 12, 2007Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0679313745

ISBN - 13:9780679313748


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quick Read Truly amazing book making you rethink whats really important in life
Date published: 2017-10-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Easy to read. I read this book relatively fast, is very easy to read, short chapters, easy to keep track of the characters. I can see how someone with no supernatural/religious beliefs would find this book a bit hokey. I do believe in a higher power, God, and in miracles, but in an odd sort of way the substance of Sherry's 'powers' were a bit hard for me to believe as well. My belief of miracles is that people who are alive and able to communicate perform miracles, not people who are comatose. But this is no reason to disbelieve that a comatose person is incapable of performing miracles. Anything is possible with God. Maybe to some, this makes these miracles more valid, I don't know. I also figured out immediately that Father Peter (the imposter) was not an ambassador for God. I would only recommend this book to a friend with the same beliefs as myself. Having said all of this, it is a really good first book by the author.
Date published: 2015-06-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gripping!! This book was an unusual read for me. It was very gripping and at times I found myself in tears. But it was also somewhat of a "test of faith" type you believe in miracles, type story line. It was a good story and I found it interesting enough to read all the way to the end.
Date published: 2012-05-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from White-bread tearjerker I'm not the audience for this book; I'm a childless atheist, so what am I doing reading a sentimental book about parents struggling with faith? A number of people recommended it to me, and I've enjoyed Wiersema's other work. Despite the unpalatable subject, Wiersema was able to keep me reading, which is actually quite an achievement. Nothing about the protagonists is particularly interesting: they're a normal couple with a normal marriage marred by the usual boring issues of infidelity. Their daughter is also unexceptional: a cute toddler with no particular talents... until her mother lets go of her hand for a split second, and she is struck down in a hit-and-run accident. What follows is a poignant spiritual awakening for the couple, and for a wide-ranging group of people who come to suspect the comatose daughter possesses miraculous healing powers. This is one of those books that exists mainly to press your emotional buttons. The husband and wife face only one major choice--whether to believe what's happening around their daughter--and the narrative is set up such that they'd be idiots to choose differently. There's no actual conflict or character development, just the parents' emotional roller coaster. So what makes it an enjoyable read? Wiersema's neat pacing and strong prose, which elevate this book above the myriad sick-child tearjerkers on the supermarket shelf. Also, the representation of faith, which was undogmatic, and managed not to alienate this non-Christian reader. Compared to Wiersema's excellent 'World More Full of Weeping', though, this book felt superficial. That storyline also featured an ordinary white guy who's lost a child, but both the father and child had agency in their own lives, which the characters in 'Before I Wake' are distinctly lacking.
Date published: 2010-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gripping! Absolutely AWESOME! A tragic accident leaves a child comatose, but events that can only be described as miracles begin to happen all around her. This book will hook you from the first page...from tragedy to believing in some higher power and back again. Amazing!
Date published: 2010-03-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing This book had so much potential but it lost it early on. The first 60 pages were heartbreaking and I almost stopped reading it because of this. The whole book is quite sad. The story lost it for me about 100 pages in when it started to get supernautrual-religious and I just had to shake my head at the storyline. I also started to get annoyed at the constantly changing viewpoint. I will not pass this on to friends.
Date published: 2009-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best "unique" novel. This novel is rich!!! Every chararacter is the "main" character and the author writes from every person's point of view. Written with an amazing style. I would definitely buy more books from this author.
Date published: 2009-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! I had seen an exert for this book in the Globe and Mail and bought it based off of that. After reading it, it was all I could talk about for days and I ended up lending it to a lot of family members who all loved it just as much as I did. It's not something I would typically read but I never once regretted shelling out twenty-some dollars for it.
Date published: 2009-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quick and good Easy to read, and this book got passed along to coworkers who also enjoyed it.
Date published: 2008-01-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Before I Wake This book had some disturbibg scenes for a mother to read. It was hard for me to read about the accident and the scene where the medical staff decided to shut off life support. Getting past that, the book was well written in a very different format that I thought was effective. It certainly kept me turning the pages. Overall, I thought it was a little to off the wall for me. I liked reading the book but didn't love it.
Date published: 2008-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Heartfelt and Uplifting Book It starts with a tragic accident and ends with an uplifting and hopeful incident. Wiersema did a wonderful job in giving us different perspectives in a poignant situation. You feel for the plight of each character and have hope that not all is lost. The good vs evil undertones of the book show us that evil can be subversive in taking us away from the ones we love. A great read and a perfect bookclub book!
Date published: 2008-01-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Review I was very disappointed with this novel. I felt completely misled by the summary on the back cover of the book. The first protion of the story was very well written ... I found myself crying for Sherry and her family. I was absolutely shocked when I realized that the whole premise of the novel was based on religion. At that point I was tempted to stop reading, but I was curious to see how Wiersema's book would compare to Jodi Picoult's novel "Keeping Faith". At times I found myself wondering if Wiersema read Picoult's book before writing his own. The story lines did end up diverging significantly, however ... Wiersema succeeded in making the situation seem even more ridiculous than I had originally thought. I wonder if Wiersema paid the Globe and Mail to put him on the Best Book list ... I cannot fathom how he could have made it otherwise.
Date published: 2007-12-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from God Awful What a disappointment after a great beginning. A family is laid waste by a tragic accident. A little girl is alive but dead; a metaphor perhaps for what is left of her parents and their marriage post-accident. I was connecting on all levels with the mother and even the father to a certain degree and couldn't wait to see where the story was going. But what happens? A miracle. Okay, I say, not expected but interesting. And what's that...the devil? And he's a got a naive, simpleton accomplice with him. Oh,oh, yeah and the bad guy can't be seen by anybody except for the guy who talks an awful lot like God in the public library. Arggghh. What drivel. It was a screenplay for a cheesy movie. The author chickened out of a study of what happens to people when their prayers are answered and instead wrote a wimpy Stephen King knock-off.
Date published: 2007-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A MUST read!! A great book, well written and thought provoking. A journey of emotions woven into a sense of possiblities of why sometimes bad things happen to good people, even that of an innocent child. It will make you feel and breath the despair and hope of devoted parents who never gave up and made choices that changed many people's lives.
Date published: 2007-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spectacular!!! In a word, this book is: Spectacular!! From the opening paragraph to the last word, this book was captivating, heartbreaking, inspiring, and absolutely breathtaking! In the midst of what must be the worst nightmare a parent can face; a child that is not dead, but that will never wake up; a little girl's parents fight to keep their daughter's spirit alive through the miracle of helping others, all while knowing that they cannot help their precious little girl. You will not be able to put this book down, and in the end, you will be grateful that you didn't. One of the best books of the year by FAR!
Date published: 2007-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The next Jodi Picoult! In a word: fabulous. Conjuring the same multi-person perspective on an extreme situation as you find in Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper” or Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones,” “Before I Wake” takes us into the home of a family who is suffering from one of the worst events that could ever happen: the hit-and-run brain-death of their three year old daughter. But when unexplained events that even the agnostic parents can’t help but think of as ‘miracles’ begin to occur, the fallout is intense. The emotional motivation and expression in the characters was nothing short of fantastic, and the more supernatural/miraculous concept in the novel was fresh and interesting. Definitely one of my favourites of the year.
Date published: 2007-02-15

Read from the Book

I only looked away for a ­moment.That one phrase haunts a parent when something tragic happens to their child. It echoes in the mind like an accusation. Or a ­curse.“I only turned my back for a second, but somehow he managed to reach the handle of the frying pan . . .”“I just went inside to answer the phone. I thought the gate to the pool was locked . . .”It’s a cry for understanding, a challenge to the universe. I hear the guilt, the recrimination, and I understand: If only I had been paying ­attention . . . He wouldn’t be ­burned.She wouldn’t have ­drowned.I didn’t look ­away.We believe that vigilance can prevent tragedy, that if we pay attention, we will be strong enough, wise enough, fortunate enough to counter ­fate.“If I had been watching . . .”It’s a ­lie.It’s a trick that the universe plays, a way of increasing the guilt and despair while seeming to explain it ­away.I didn’t look away. I wish I ­had.Sometimes we can only watch, mute witnesses as our lives change in a moment, in a heartbeat, in the time it takes a ­three-­year-­old girl to take a single step from our ­side.I let go of her ­hand.I didn’t look ­away.And my baby is ­gone.April 1996“Jubilee, this is A32. We have two, repeat two, en route. Hit and run. ETA four minutes. Clear.”“Copy, A32. Please advise condition. Clear.”“Copy, Jubilee. Advise one adult female. Some bleeding. Shock. Holding stable. Clear.”“Copy, A32. Advise.”“Copy, Jubilee. Advise one female child, three years. Severe head trauma with decreased level of consciousness and spontaneous respirations. Severe bleeding from cranium. Clear.”“Copy, A32. Trauma One will meet you at the gate. Clear.”KAREN BARRETTSherry and I were walking to the mall, holding ­hands.Hillside Shopping Centre is only a few blocks from the house, and every Wednesday morning in the food court clowns and jugglers and musicians perform for the kids. I had dressed Sherry in her little blue dress, the one with Winnie the Pooh on the front. She had chosen it herself: “my ­sky-­blue dress, because it matches the sky.” I zipped up the back carefully, so as not to catch any of her wispy hair between the metal teeth. I tickled her gently under the arms as I ­finished.Was that the last time I heard her ­laugh?Sherry loved the clowns, and the noise of all the other children packed into the food court was like a wall of pure joy. We usually had a snack, a muffin or some french fries, before we walked home, and by the time we got back it would be nap time for both of ­us.It was a beautiful spring day. The sky was a clear, cold blue, but there was no chill to the air. In fact, the air was heavy with warmth and growth and green and flowers as we walked through our neighborhood. We stopped to pet familiar cats, to smell the lilacs just in flower, to pick up stones that weighed down my ­pockets.I checked both ways before we stepped into the crosswalk on Hillside. I always do. The street is too wide to take any risks: three lanes in each direction with a concrete median, and the cars and buses just roar through. There’s no light at the crosswalk, so I’m always careful to check. Better that we wait a few seconds than take any ­chances.We waited for a station wagon to pass from the left and I saw a truck a good distance away on the right, but it was perfectly safe. I took her small hand in mine.Perfectly safe.We walked quickly. Six lanes is pretty far for a ­three-year-­old, but we’d done it plenty of ­times.We should have waited at the ­median.The next time I looked up, the truck was right there, maybe 100 yards away. It was old and beat up, red with white fenders. And it was roaring toward ­us.I felt her fingers slip from mine. Felt her moving. “Sherry,” I called as she skipped away. We were in the same lane as the truck, so all we had to do was get to the next lane. It wasn’t far. No more than a couple of ­feet.I should have picked her up. I don’t know why I didn’t pick her up. She turned to look at me. “Sherry!”I watched her pudgy white legs scamper across the pavement, her little white shoes, her little blue dress.Her sky-blue dress.When I turned to check, I could almost see the face of the driver in the truck. He had shifted lanes to go wide around us, weaving into the next lane, the lane in front of us, the lane that Sherry had just quickstepped into. The roar of his engine blocked out all other ­noise.I reached for her, my fingers just brushing her blond hair before the truck pulled her away from ­me.I could hear, over the roar of the engine, the sound of her body hitting the bumper as the truck took her beyond my ­reach.I could feel the wake of the truck as it sped past me, as I threw myself toward her. Tried to reach ­her.There was a squealing of tires. A ­scream.And the next thing I saw was the ceiling of a hospital emergency ­room.“9—1-1 Operator. How should I direct your call?”“I just killed a little girl . . .”“Sir–”“I swerved . . . I swerved around her . . .”“Sir, where are you?”“I’m at the Hillside Mall . . .”“Where are you at Hillside Mall, sir?”“I only looked away for a minute. I checked my mirror. I changed lanes. I swerved, but she . . .”“Sir, where are you calling from?”“I just killed a little girl . . .”“­Sir . . . Sir? Sir?”From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. The concept of sacrifice is explored in different ways in Before I Wake. Which character do you think made the biggest sacrifice?2. Discuss when Karen, Simon, Ruth, Henry and Mary each experienced guilt and how did they deal with it?3. When reading Before I Wake, did you come up with any theories about the identities of Tim and the mysterious stranger? At what point in the story did you correctly guess their true identities?4. Tim tells Henry “Miracles don’t come easy. They’re not a gift. There’s always a price in return.” What were some of the less obvious costs of Sherry’s miraculous abilities?5. Simon and Karen describe themselves as agnostic. What is the significance of this throughout the book and how does it affect the way they interact with those who are religious? Did you expect their beliefs would change over the course of the book?6. Consider the role the media played in reporting the developments of Sherry and her ability to heal. When were the newspaper articles and television reports accurate and when were they inaccurate? Who did the inaccuracies affect?7. Why do you think Henry only encounters other men while in limbo?8. Henry and Tim chose the library as their home base. If you found yourself “outside of the world you knew, but still connected to it,” where would you likely spend most of your time?9. How did the fractured narrative style of Before I Wake benefit the telling of this story? Do you think it could have also been told with a more traditional narrative?10. How did your impression of Simon change over the course of the book?11. There are many plot twists in this story. What part surprised you the most?12. What did you make of the book’s ending? Were you satisfied with the coda?

Editorial Reviews

“Robert Wiersema . . . has written an accomplished first novel, the sort of book veteran novelists might well envy. . . . Before I Wake is deceptively easy to read because it is so well written and so emotionally engaging. It is not, however, an easily forgotten book. It will haunt you long after you’ve lent it to a friend. And lend it you will, because it is too good not to share.” –National Post“We go along for this unusual ride – that takes us to purgatory and awakens images of the inquisition – because we trust Wiersema’s consummate skill: a talent that makes him one of our most promising and original voices.” –The Gazette (Montreal)"…rivetting debut novel…Wiersema has crafted a literary, supernatural thriller that grips the reader in a chokehold on page one and doesn’t let go until the very last line…Before I Wake is a classic thriller: creepy in all the right places and deliciously suspenseful. Beyond that, it has great emotional depth and resonance."–The Globe and Mail"Before I Wake is a stunning debut. Robert Wiersema's novel is original, thought-provoking and downright wonderful."–Michael Connelly, author of The Closers and The Lincoln Lawyer"Through a tale that is both intimate and profound, Robert J. Wiersema reminds us there is magic in truth, and truth in the fantastic. Before I Wake is an edge-of-your-seat debut that is never faint of heart."–Ami McKay, author of The Birth House"I wept over this book as I read it, and I'm still haunted by it. Wiersema’s compassion for us all shines through in writing that is vivid and very often disturbingly powerful. He is a beautiful writer, and this is a beautiful book."–Gail Anderson-Dargatz, author of The Cure for Death by Lightning, A Recipe for Bees and A Rhinestone Button"I read this book in less than three days, over the Christmas holidays with a house full of family and friends, and every time I had to put it down, I found myself compiling lists of people for whom I wanted to buy it. It captured me from the opening page and kept me going, wanting more, because it is a wonderful story, superbly told. The tight, tersely written chapters with their constantly changing points of view had me totally enthralled, because the characters are all utterly believable; every one of them rings true, with no miscues. A wonderful novel from a storyteller who knows what being a master of the craft entails."–Jack Whyte, author of the Dream of Eagles series"Inventively told using cinematic jump cuts and fantastical interventions, Before I Wake provocatively dances along the lines between faith and science, life and death. Robert Wiersema’s first novel shows a writer possessed with the kind of storytelling instincts that make you care about the answer to the one question that really counts: What happens next?"–Andrew Pyper, author of The Wildfire Season