Just in Case -- Meg Rosoff
If you've read How I Live Now, you will not be surprised to hear that Just in Case is not your average YA novel.
After averting what could have been a terrible, tragic accident, 15-year-old David Case decides that he is Doomed. That’s Doomed, with a Capital D. He decides that Fate is Out to Get Him.
His only chance was to remake his life one step at a time, starting with his name. And if he managed to be different enough, well, perhaps Fate would forget about David Case and pass on to the next pathetic victim. Hound him to death.
He stepped out his front door and off the curb, causing a cyclist to swerve in front of a delivery van, and changed his name to Justin. Justin sounded suave, coolly ironic, hard-bodied, rigorously intelligent. More competent than David. Less vulnerable. Justin Case was the sort of character who could cope with danger.
The screech and the sound of the impact stopped him momentarily and he watched with interest as the cyclist flew off his bike and into the air.
He changes his name on his own, but a chance encounter with a young woman named Agnes in the local charity shop results in a change in his look. The meeting is also the beginning of an odd sort of friendship—or could it be love?
Justin has a dog, an imaginary greyhound called Boy. There's a strange thing about Boy—some people, some people other than Justin, are not only able to see him, but are also able to interact with him.
His little brother, eighteen-month-old Charlie, can think circles around his big brother and his parents. He tries to communicate, but is regularly frustrated by their lack of understanding. His mother is so concerned with not overstepping her bounds, with not being one of “those” parents, that she may as well be absent.
The book is narrated by Fate, which leads one to think that there may be more to David’s situation than mere adolescent angst or hormonal paranoia.
Just in Case is completely different from How I Live Now. Completely: The style, the voice, the characters, the world. (Yes, it’s our world, but as far as I can tell, not the same version that Daisy exists in.) Rosoff plays with style, sometimes repeating words to create a certain rhythm, sometimes letting Fate take a break from his (its) omniscient narrator role to speak directly to the reader.
The language is a treat—words like incipient, guyline, syncopation, phrases like ‘philosophical vertigo’ and sentences like: “The boundary between reality and fantasy wobbled dangerously.” Her description makes visualization effortless. Not because she overdoes it—in most cases, the description is actually pretty spare—but because her word choice is so precise. (I suspect I especially enjoy her writing because I'm always so long-winded and circular in my description, whereas she can just say what she wants to say in a sentence or two.)
And it’s funny. (Sort of. In parts.) For example at one point his mother (in one of her few moments of active parenting) suspects that she knows what might be bothering Justin:
Justin lifted his spoon and pondered the question. Milk dripped off it as it hovered, loaded, in midair. Homosexual? It hadn’t really occurred to him. He supposed it was possible. Anything was possible.
“Not that I know of,” he said finally.
His father exhaled impatiently and returned to his paper. “Well, that’s a relief,” he snorted. “Life’s complicated enough without having a poof for a son.”
Well, funny in a somewhat depressing way.
I liked it quite a lot. I’ll probably be re-reading it again soon. But I have absolutely NO idea who to recommend it to—maybe fans of Freewill, though the books are completely different in style and tone. It could appeal to fans of magical realism. I was also reminded a bit of Kafka. And strangely, some of the druggier sixties books, though I couldn't say exactly which ones or why, as I haven't read any of that stuff since high school.
Has anyone else read it yet?