Author: Victoria Laurie
Age Range: 13 and up
I resisted reading Victoria Laurie's When because the premise seemed to similar to that of another book I had already read (Numbers by Rachel Ward). In both books, a teenage girl has spent her life seeing a set of numbers whenever she looks at people. At some point in her childhood she has figured out that the numbers are the dates that people will die. This knowledge eventually gets her into unwitting trouble with the law, even though she is just trying to help people. Yeah, same premise.
But Leila Roy (who had also read Numbers) called When "entirely entertaining" anyway, and I decided to give it a go. And I'm glad I did. I found When to be the most fast-paced, engaging book that I've read in several months. I did NOT fall asleep when reading it in bed (as I do with almost everything lately), and I read the whole thing in 2 days. I was also irritated when people tried to talk to me when I was reading - always a sign that a book has my full attention.
When features 16-year-old Maddie Fynn, daughter of a barely functioning alcoholic mother and a deceased cop father. Maddie is bright and hard-working, but also a bit of an outcast, bullied at school, and with only one friend, a geeky boy nicknamed Stubby. To keep her mother in vodka, she runs a little business telling people about their death dates. When she warns a woman that he son is expected to die next week, the woman responds badly. When the son disappears on his way home from school, on the appointed day, Maddie becomes a suspect, and is grilled by the FBI. Things rapidly spiral worse from there.
I'm not normally a fan of what I call the "hapless suspect" books - where someone ends up being investigated by the police for something that they clearly didn't do. But I was willing to give When a pass on this, because Maddie remained a strong character, and because the action was so suspenseful. There are one or two aspects of the book that I might quibble over, but I found the characterization in When strong, and the pacing excellent. I wasn't sure who the bad guy was until the end. There were a number of possibilities, and Laurie had me second-guessing all sorts of people's motives. She made me care about Maddie, and I had to keep reading to find out what happened to her.
I would recommend When more for high schoolers and adults than for middle schoolers. There are torture murders (though these occur offscreen), and the portrait of life with an alcoholic parent is fairly grim. The bullying to which Maddie is subjected is also pretty harsh (though probably not unrealistic). While generally a fast-paced thriller, I do think that When offers some food for discussion for parents and teens who co-read the book (Should you intervene when someone is being bullied? Is one's fate pre-determined?).
I recommend When for anyone (teen or adult) looking for a fast-paced, intriguing mystery. If you haven't read Numbers, so much the better, but even if you have, When is a very different book, and well worth a look. I especially enjoyed the ending.
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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