Maddie Fynn is a shy high school junior, cursed with an eerie intuitive ability: she sees a series of unique digits hovering above the foreheads of each person she encounters. Her earliest memories are marked by these numbers, but it takes her father’s premature death for Maddie and her family to realize that these mysterious digits are actually death dates, and just like birthdays, everyone has one.
Forced by her alcoholic mother to use her ability to make extra money, Maddie identifies the quickly approaching death date of one client’s young son, but because her ability only allows her to see the when and not the how, she’s unable to offer any more insight. When the boy goes missing on that exact date, law enforcement turns to Maddie.
Soon, Maddie is entangled in a homicide investigation, and more young people disappear and are later found murdered. A suspect for the investigation, a target for the murderer, and attracting the attentions of a mysterious young admirer who may be connected to it all, Maddie’s whole existence is about to be turned upside down. Can she right things before it’s too late?
For as long as she can remember, 16-year-old Maddie Fynn’s been able to look at a person and see the date they’re going to die. Not that this ability has ever done her any good – it certainly didn’t save her father from being shot in the line of duty, and nobody she’s ever forewarned has ever been able to circumvent their fate. Her talent’s never caused her any real harm, though – until she meets Mrs. Tibbolt and tells her that her son, Tevon, is due to die the following week.
At first the woman dismisses Maddie’s warning as the work of a con artist, but when Tevon goes missing on the date predicted, she gives Maddie’s name to the authorities. At first Maddie’s just called in for questioning, but when another teen she’s warned goes missing and is later found dead, she becomes the focus of an FBI investigation and the target of a community-wide witch-hunt. Can Maddie convince everyone of her innocence and catch the real killer, or will she spend the rest of her days awaiting her own deathdate from inside a prison cell?
I’m a huge fan of Victoria Laurie’s two paranormal cozy series, so I cracked the cover on her new YA thriller, When, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. What I found within was a bit of a mixed bag.
Laurie’s aces at creating complex, lifelike, sympathetic heroines, and Maddie is no exception. When’s young protagonist is smart, strong, brave, sweet, and loyal to a fault. Add to all that the fact that most of the adults charged with protecting her are actively working against her best interests and that she’s been saddled with a truly devastating “gift” – one that seemingly has no upside – and you’ve not only got a character for whom readers can’t help but root, but one for whom reader’s hearts will break. When’s pace is swift, there’s no shortage of action or drama, and the tension builds and builds until you become so invested in Maddie’s plight that you can’t put down the book if you try. (I should know; I read the entire thing in a single sitting.) The nuanced relationships Laurie’s crafted – particularly those between Maddie and her widowed, alcoholic mother; her naïve BFF-turned-murder-suspect Stubby; and her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Duncan – only add to the story’s depth and emotional impact.
That said, I do have some quibbles. While I like Maddie, she and her peers read younger than their purported age; they’re more like the teenagers of 20 years ago than the teenagers of today, and that inconsistency occasionally detracts from the tale’s believability. Also, while Maddie’s generally a very responsible, intelligent girl with actions and behavior to match, there are a couple points in the book when she acts irrationally – withholding what’s obviously key information from her mother, her lawyer, and/or the feds, for example – for no discernable reason other than to complicate the plot. While compelling, Laurie’s mystery doesn’t quite sit square, nor does her solution feel earned. And while I’m a sucker for a happy ending, When’s final pages feel a little too sweet and a little too sappy considering the 300 or so pages of bleakness and depression that precede it. Am I picking nits? Almost certainly. When’s got more positives than negatives, to be sure, but for me, it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of Laurie’s adult-geared output.
Reviewed by Kat