{Review} WHEN by Victoria Laurie

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

  I'M NOT EXACTLY SURE WHEN I first started seeing the numbers. My earliest memories are filled with snatches of familiar and unfamiliar faces,each with a set of small black digits floating like shadows just above their foreheads. The clearest first memory I have of seeing them comes from a muggy summer morning when Dad was sitting across the table from me, already dressed for his mid-morning shift. I remember the blue of his shirt perfectly matching the color of his eyes. That morning the city traffic was loud, streaming in through windows fully open to allow for even the faintest breeze. I was probably three or four--four, I think--and he was showing me on a piece of paper how to draw numbers and what to call them.

  I already knew my shapes--circle, square, triangle--so I picked up on the lesson really fast, and I thought Dad was finally revealing the secret. The secret of why those odd little figures kept hovering right above everyone's foreheads.

  He taught me one, two, and three; I was so excited. But the elusive number was nine. We went through so many others to get to it, and finally it had a name. I remember repeating it out loud--the last piece of the puzzle in place--and I pointed to him triumphantly and shouted, "Nine-two-three-two-circle-circle-four!"

  Then I laughed and laughed, and I remember thinking he'd be so proud of me for saying his numbers back to him. But when I'd settled down, I saw that he had the most puzzled look on his face. He was smiling with me, but also confused.

  The memory is bittersweet. I can still see his face so clearly in my mind, the blue of his eyes, the black of his hair, the crook to his nose, and those numbers permanently etched onto his forehead. Small black gravestones against a pale white landscape.

  It took us a couple of years to figure out what they meant. Actually, it took two years and one day too many.

(Pages 1-2, US paperback edition)

"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."
~Maddie Fynn, WHEN

Are you looking for a good YA mystery? The market is far from saturated, so it's always nice to find new ones to enjoy. WHEN by Victoria Laurie even throws in a bit of a sci-fi twist, adding a fun bend that creates a compelling thriller as the main character tries to clear her name...before she is the next victim.

Maddie Fynn has always been able to see the date for when someone will die. The numbers hover over everyone's forehead. She never knew what the number meant until her dad died. Now, her mother drinks to forget and Maddie is left to pick up the pieces. To make money, Maddie's mom makes her have readings with people who want to find out when they or their loved ones will die. When a mother comes to find out if it's worth doing an experimental drug trial is worth putting her daughter through the experience or not, she doesn't expect to be told that her son will die the following week. Maddie can never see how or why a person dies, only the day they will. When the boy turns up murdered, his mother points a finger at Maddie and the FBI turns its attention to her. Then, her best friend's crush turns up dead. Everyone thinks Maddie is running a hoax and that she's killing people to perpetuate the myth that she can see a person's death day. But Maddie knows she didn't kill anyone and that she can see what she sees. Every day spent convincing the FBI that she's innocent is another day a deranged killer is on the loose. And the killer might want Maddie as his next victim...

I love a mystery where I don't see the end going. I'm pretty good at picking up on small clues and really thought I had it figured out. I DIDN'T. The end during the confrontation with the killer was creepy and surprising and totally kept me on my toes! Now, I'm not a huge reader/watcher of the genre, so people with more knowledge might be annoyed by the way the FBI handles the case or interacts with Maddie and be thrown off by the book. If you can throw that to the side--or like me, don't notice--WHEN is a really intriguing experience!

I also love the sci-fi bend to WHEN. I probably wouldn't have picked up the book without this element. I don't read many mysteries because, again, I figure them out too soon (or they're too graphically violent for me). What first attracted me to WHEN was the concept that someone out there could see the date everyone died. What kind of weight must that burden place on someone's shoulders, especially if you've been able to do this your entire life? What guilt must come from seeing people about to die soon or knowing when a loved one will die?

There are also a lot of contemporary issues at play in WHEN. Maddie's mom is an alcoholic and Maddie is the one left to keep the household together. Her uncle is thankfully in her life and making sure she's doing well, but Maddie has to be an adult far too soon. She is also severely bullied at school for her abilities, and the book looks on the way schools handle--or mishandle--such situations.

WHEN is the type of book that will attract multiple reading audiences and keep them engaged because the elements work so well together. YA Contemporary with tough issues? Check. Sci-Fi Intrigue? Check. Compelling mystery? Check! If you like any or all of these genres, pick up WHEN by Victoria Laurie. I was actually able to snag my copy on Book Outlet last month for a really good price, and there are still copies available!


Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: --
Language: PG ( damn, bitch, sick bastard, etc.)
Violence: PG-13 ( School bullying isn't graphic in description, but recounted later; description of some of the murder victims seen through photographs; witnessing a bomb explosion and seeing someone come out heavily wounded;  confrontation with murderer at book's conclusion)
Other: G ( Mother is an alcoholic and there is a lot of fallout from that; a man leers at teenage Maddie at one point. )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

It's intriguing! The way the world is blurred behind her and there are mysterious numbers everywhere? It was enough to make me pick it up and take a peek!

Once I read the book, the numbers made sense, though they also aren't portrayed the way Maddie "sees" them...but it works better for the cover!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Title: WHEN
Author: Robin Sloan
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Received: Purchased


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?