Thursday, January 29, 2015
Review: When by Victoria Laurie
Author: Victoria Laurie
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Imagine being able to look at a person and see, always, the day of their death looming above them. It may be an extraordinary gift, sure, but it's also a curse. One that Maddie Fynn knows all too well. Ever since she was young, Maddie has been able to see the deathdays of those around her. It first happened when she drew a family portrait and wrote the etched the date of her father's death on paper and, ever since, her talent has singled Maddie out as a loner. With only one friend, Stubs, whose friendliness is matched only by his kindness, Maddie's life is a small, but fulfilling one. Her alcoholic mother, unable to drive after two DUIs, exploits Maddie's skill and forces her to read deathdates for money--money which Maddie uses to pay off bills; money her mother uses to purchase more alcohol. It isn't the healthiest situation and it's far more than any typical high school junior should manage, but Maddie takes care of herself, her mother, and her grades in a juggling act that has become routine.
She doesn't think there's much room in her life for things to get any worse until the FBI name her a suspect to the murder of a young thirteen-year-old boy. Earlier that week, Maddie had looked at an imagine of a young girl with cancer and told her mother that she would live. Inside that wallet, however, were pictures of two other children--one who was fated to die a week from that day. When Maddie tries to warn the mother, however, she is labeled a fraud and the angry customer leaves Maddie's house. A week later, when the boy is found missing, Maddie is questioned by the FBI. With the help of her Uncle Donny, a lawyer in Brooklyn, and her best friend, Maddie must try to clear her name and prove to the FBI that she's innocent. Because, after all, the real killer is still on the loose...
When is a brilliantly written YA debut from Victoria Laurie. Maddie's narration is raw, honest, and down-to-earth. She's a heroine who makes the best of her circumstances and even as life constantly tries to put her down, she gets back up every time, stronger than ever. I admire her will and determination and throughout the novel, all I wanted to do was shield Maddie from the false accusations and difficult situations she was forced to face as a result of the FBI's interference in her life. The FBI are ruthless and they are desperate enough to put an end to these string of murders--each gruesome, targeting minors, and filled with torture--that they're willing to put the blame on an innocent girl like Maddie.
Despite the fact that Maddie's mother is an alcoholic, I was glad to see that Maddie had other adults in her life whom she could turn to for support. The relationship between Maddie and her Uncle Donny, a bachelor who keeps insisting that Maddie can leave her mother and move in with him, is akin to that of a father and daughter. Maddie's father was Uncle Donny's brother and though it has been years since his death, neither of them can forget him. Moreover, Donny makes Maddie proud to be her father's daughter and though the two face their own set of relationship woes--namely the fact that Maddie is loyal to her mother when Donny can see that it isn't a healthy, or normal, relationship--they work well together as a team and Donny goes above and beyond to make sure that Maddie is safe and protected, despite the mayhem around her.
Maddie's friendship with Stubs is also at the forefront of this novel and their relationship goes through some truly difficult circumstances. Laurie isn't afraid to go to extreme measures when it comes to reinforcing the seriousness of this situation and though, at its core, When is an impeccably written and neatly planned murder mystery, that doesn't decrease the strength of the character relationships throughout the novel. Speaking of the mystery, however, I have to admit that I did not, at all, under any circumstances, predict the final reveal. Laurie threw in plenty of red herrings and clues but the true identity of the murderer is one that I am confident no reader will be able to guess beforehand. It's sneaky, it's shocking, and it all makes too much sense in retrospect--just as an excellent mystery should do.
Maddie deals with so much in this novel--FBI questioning, an alcoholic mother, a murderer on the loose, bullying as a result of the FBI's suspicions--that she has little time to be a normal teenager. Yet, despite the fact that there is little to no romance in this novel, we do receive a final, all-too-perfect glimpse of it at the end. And, let me tell you, it is cute beyond measure. I really enjoyed the fact that When remained focused on Maddie, the mystery at hand, and her consequent growth and change as a result of the investigation. Maddie learns a lot about her abilities over the course of this novel and, what's more, she learns a lot about herself. While she begins this story as a teen trying to fit in and hide her abilities, she grows to embrace them by the end and the confidence she accumulates over the course of this difficult murder is heart-warming to see. Thus, I appreciate that Laurie didn't make, say, Stubs, the romantic interest nor were the trickles of the love story involved, in any way, with the murder at hand. Both are separate storylines, one obviously the main plot, but they converge beautifully in an ending that is completely satisfying.
I'm not sure if I'll go back to read through Laurie's backlog--there's only so much thriller/mystery I can take at a time--but I will, without a doubt, be on the lookout for her next YA novel. If there's one author you should be looking out for in the YA genre, it's Victoria Laurie.