Sunday, September 03, 2006

Review: Just in Case

Meg Rosoff's second novel, Just in Case, is a terrifying read. Why terrifying? Because just one thought changes the hero's life forever--in a way he, his family, his friends, and the reader don't fully understand. Is he depressed? Is he schizophrenic? Is Fate really after him?

Fifteen-year-old David Case was in charge of his toddler brother, Charlie, when it happened. Charlie decided he could fly and was perched on the windowsill about to dive. David just barely rescues his brother from a catastrophic fall. Did David feel relieved, grateful? No. This is what David understands:

"Suddenly, everywhere he looked he saw catastrophe, bloodshed, the demise of the planet, the ruin of the human race, not to mention (to pinpoint the exact source of his anxiety) possible pain and suffering to himself."

David decides Fate is persuing him and, indeed, Fate shows up here in there in the narration, assuring David that this is the case. David resolves to outrun Fate. He changes his name to Justin and buys a whole new wardrobe at a second-hand shop. He meets a nineteen-year-old girl named Agnes, a photographer who sees potential in Justin as a model. For awhile, he escapes Fate and his life improves. He meets a new friend at school, a calm genius named Peter. He begins to run cross country and finds comfort in the rhythm of outrunning Fate. And, an invisible greyhound, Boy, adopts him.

But then Fate's voice comes to him, singing the song of the Gingerbread man during a race, and Justin's life takes a turn for the worst. He stops going to school, he begins living with Agnes and never leaves the apartment. I'm not going to spoil the ending for you, but it involves a plane crash, meningitis, an art exhibit, and some special children able to read minds (a Rosoff trait, it seems).

Just in Case is such a powerful novel because, as a reader, you just don't know what to think. Is Justin crazy? Is Fate really out to get him? Why can Charlie read his brother so well and does the toddler really know how to live? All I can tell you is to run out and read Just in Case. Despite its darkness, the novel's message is, in the end, one of hope and transcendence.