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When by Victoria Laurie

When

Image: NetGalley

Genre: YA paranormal mystery

High school junior Maddie Fynn has always seen the numbers, even before she understood what numbers were. At first, her parents don’t think much of the strings of digits she recites, but when Maddie’s police officer father is killed in the line of duty on a date that matches the numbers young Maddie scrawled above the picture she drew of her family, Maddie’s mother realizes the significance of Maddie’s abilities. Years later, Mrs. Fynn is prone to drowning her sorrows in a bottle, and Maddie is doing her best to keep what’s left of her family afloat by doing readings, telling people their death dates. When a woman comes to see Maddie to ask about her sick daughter, Maddie notices that the woman’s son’s death date is fast approaching and tries to warn the woman. To Maddie’s horror, when the woman’s son disappears, she and her best friend, Stubby, become prime suspects, and nothing Maddie says convinces the FBI of their innocence.

It has been a long, long time since I’ve enjoyed a young adult novel as much as I enjoyed Victoria Laurie’s When. I more or less loved everything about it, which means I won’t have much to address on the downside. Prepare yourselves: you’re about to read a rave review.

On the downside:

Stubby – If I have one critique of this novel, it’s that maybe Stubby’s character shifts are a little too abrupt. Still, Laurie does address this, and since everyone deals with trauma differently, I didn’t find this aspect of his character totally unbelievable.

On the upside:

Everything else – Okay, that sounds kind of broad but, seriously, this book was about as perfect as a book gets. It was everything I love in a good, taut, suspenseful read. Still, I think it’s only fair to get into more detail as I do want to do the book justice.

The supernatural elements – I’m not a huge fan of heavily supernatural books, but I do like books that are carefully seasoned with supernatural elements as I think they can add a lot of extra flavor. The premise of this book snagged my attention right away, and I thought it was done very well. Maddie doesn’t have awesome supernatural powers. Instead, she sees a string of numbers whenever she looks at a person or their photograph, and that’s the extent of her abilities. She’s not even sure whether the dates she sees are changeable or fixed, though she does wonder about it. Laurie’s inclusion of this element is solid. Maddie had many of the same questions about her ability as I did, and her ability remained consistent throughout the book rather than suddenly leveling up in an implausible display of awesomeness. I wondered what it would be like to have the kind of ability Maddie has, and imagined it would be pretty alienating, not to mention unsettling.

Stubby’s and Maddie’s friendship – There’s nothing wrong with the friends-become-lovers trope–in fact, it’s one that I tend to really like–but I was glad it didn’t crop up here. Stubby and Maddie are very good, very close friends, and I thought the depiction of their friendship was entirely realistic. I liked how they acted with one another, and the ups and downs in their relationship are portrayed very well.

The romance – Maddie has a crush on a boy named Aiden, and it crops up throughout the book, but it never detracts from the central plot.

Maddie’s mother – I thought this element was handled very well. Books sometimes like to toss in heavy problems like alcoholism in order to give a narrative more weight, but Mrs. Fynn’s drinking problem was handled with a great deal of gravity. It creates many problems for both Maddie and her mother, and the agonizing guilt Maddie feels over it is very understandable. Laurie leaves a lot open in the beginning of the book, and I wondered what was contributing to Mrs. Fynn’s alcoholism. Is it because she blames her daughter? Is it because she can’t cope with what her daughter can do? Is it because she blames herself? By the end, Laurie has cleared things up, and it’s an important moment in the book when Maddie finally comes to a full understanding of her mother’s demons.

Maddie – She seemed like a teenager, something that’s not always the case with YA. Sometimes the hand of the author is too evident, making the character sound older than they should. Maddie makes some mistakes and does some stupid things, but they’re the kinds of mistakes and oversights I could imagine someone making. At no point did I feel like something she did was because it was convenient to the plot and not in keeping with her character. Her turmoil is understandable, and I found her a very sympathetic character who doesn’t descend into the maudlin. Maddie is just trying to make sense of her world and to survive as best she can.

The adults – They actually exist in this book! Too often YA removes adults from the picture completely, which is never realistic to me. No matter how tenuous a relationship teenagers may have with the adults in their lives, the fact is that they are around adults on a regular basis. The adults in this book are actual characters with their own motivations, problems, and biases. They react in ways that felt realistic to me for the most part, and they’re not exempted from making bad moves. Plus, Maddie relies on adults to help her, which they do. It’s nice to see adults treated as possible allies by a YA book, rather than as yet more obstacles to overcome.

The plot – The pacing is great, and there’s a lot of tension in the book, which makes you want to keep on turning pages. I was surprised by the ending, which was part of what made reading this book so satisfying. While I don’t always mind if I figure out the culprit before the characters do, few things are worse than when the perpetrator is obvious and the characters are stumbling around blindly trying to put the pieces together. The crimes in this book are chilling, as are the killer’s reasons for committing them.

Plain and simple, this book proved to be an excellent and satisfying suspense novel. I found it engrossing and felt well rewarded by the payoff it offered. This isn’t Laurie’s first book, but it is her first YA novel. She’s a promising new voice in YA fiction, and I look forward to reading more of her books.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy for review.

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8 Comments

  1. Great review! I appreciated that Maddie and Stubby didn’t suddenly fall in love and instead stayed friends. Both acted like teenagers too, which made a nice change from some of the YA books I’ve read lately. And never saw that ending coming, so it was a nice surprise! Made sense, but I like that it wasn’t telegraphed ahead of time. I wonder if there will be a sequel?

    • i hope there’s a sequel

  2. Hi it looks like a really good book but it is just like a book that I read time ago and that isn’t very popular. It’s called Numbers and it is really good, she reads the dates of people’s death in their eyes and she slowly starts falling for this guy but he is going to die within weeks and when she sees that all the people in the que for the London eye have that same day in their eyes she realises her and this guy age to run and they manage just in time to get away. At that point everybody thinks they are terrorists and they are forced to run. It’s really good! I’ll see if I find this book too so then I will be able to compare them.

  3. That info about the book wuzz great tysm

  4. TBH, this was my favorite book I’ve ever read!!!

  5. I really liked this book! One question I had was that can she see her own death date? It says in the begining when she was little she drew a picture of her parents and her deathdates but it never says what hers is.

    • That was my question throughout the book aswell but at the end of the book it clarifys that she knew because she told her crush that his death date was the day after hers

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