|Robb's Rambling Reviews||
Maddie Flynn is not your typical teenager, what with her alcoholic mother crashing cars and ending up in jail, FBI agents following her, and being accused of murder an all. And oh, by the way, she can tell you the exact day you’re going to die. Not bad for a book of a little over three hundred pages, huh? Laurie’s plot is one I’ve not come across before in the YA genre, and that in itself makes this work unusual. Not a crossbow or wand to be seen for miles. But Maddie does have something quite useful in her arsenal: she is able to see the exact death dates of people across their foreheads. How’s that for luck? In a nutshell Maddie doesn’t exactly relish her gift, but her mom uses this to her own advantage, having Maddie do readings for customers until it begins to backfire and all heck breaks loose. Suffice it to say here that Maddie is accused of all sorts of bad things that she and her friend Stubby, who actually sets most of the trouble in motion, have to sort out all kinds of trouble before they are arrested for murder.
Laurie’s character of Maddie in her novel When is by far one of my favorite YA characters to date. Dealing with this “gift” since she was a child, all Maddie wants is a normal life. Unfortunately, for Maddie, all her gift seems to give her is trouble and grief. “Why,” Maddie asks herself one day, “am I seemingly the only person on earth who can these numbers? Why did fate choose me for such a cruel gift?” I can’t imagine such a prophetic gift, and not being able to do much with it. This also seems to be our heroine’s trouble as well. “I was like a whirlpool of tragedy, and anybody who dared to get too close to me could get sucked in and drown. Like I was drowning right now.” I can totally understand her dilemma, but somewhat relieved I can’t empathize with her. The novel has a host of memorable and well developed characters from Maddie and Stubby, to her sick, self-centered mother, to her fatherly Uncle Donnie, to her sweet grandmotherly neighbor Mrs. Duncan, and even Agent Faraday, the FBI agent, himself. Laurie has a gift for making personalities take shape, come to life, and jump off the page.
As with any good mystery, pacing and timing are key. Laurie understands this, and uses it quite well. Maddie’s story, written in first person, begins as a low-key introduction to her gift and what it has cost her up to this point. As she grows older, and becomes the parent figure for her own mother, she must make decisions teenagers aren’t meant or equipped to make. As decisions, right or wrong, begin to have consequences to Maddie and those she loves, Laurie tightens the plot, and increased the speed at which the action occurs (and increase the speed at which the reader will have to turn the pages). As the book reached its climax, the action began rolling so intensely I wondered if Laurie was going to be able to put the brakes on and bring the story home without crashing the whole story down around our heroine. Suffice it to say, I was quite pleased with her ending.
Two things struck me as I read When and began to understand Maddie’s gift. First, the death dates reminded me of our family’s cemetery on the East Coast. Many of the headstones go back to the early 1700’s and spell out the dates of birth and death. Some stones list the names of loved ones or how special a person was to someone else. Maddie doesn’t have this luxury. All she knows is that the person in front of her is going to die, an exactly when. She can’t do anything to stop it, and explaining the dates to people usually just causes trouble. Poor kid, I really felt sorry for her (even when she made some pretty bad decisions). The second thing that kept running through my mind was whether or not I would want Maddie to tell me my date. I finally decided that no, I would not want to know, and I think that is a pretty normal human feeling. Would we live our lives differently if we knew? Would we live them any better? Or would we live them worse? And by the way, I’m super glad I don’t have Maggie’s gift. Could you imagine dealing with at day in and day out? No thanks! But I am thankful for Laurie’s out of the box story. The premise was intriguing when I pulled the book, and her writing did not disappoint. Although I figured out the “whodunit” ahead of the reveal, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and would recommend it highly.
Victoria Laurie has a winner on her hands. Full of engaging and relatable characters, an intriguing plot, and pacing so quick you need to catch your breath, the novel really delivers. I found myself actually talking out loud to Maddie several times. WIthout a stable parental figure in her life, she is not well equipped to make a lot of the decisions she had to. I think this will resonate with teen readers. Many don't have the typical family structure which allows children to grow up with both parents in the same home, giving advice and teaching children things they should know. Maddie makes the best out of the cards she has been dealt, and does pretty well, considering. An excellent work and highly recommended.
Citation: Laurie, V. (2015). When. New York, NY: Disney Hyperion Books.