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Just in Case

Review

Just in Case

Michael L. Printz Award-winner Meg Rosoff's second novel (following HOW I LIVE NOW) reads like a cross between the mind-bending film Donnie Darko and Haruki Murakami's adult novel, SPUTNIK SWEETHEART. Infused with philosophical musings on fate, free will, coincidence and absolutes, and couched in a story about a 15-year-old boy on a self-imposed quest to define himself and his relationship to the world around him, JUST IN CASE hops between the esoteric and the mundane and just about succeeds on both levels.

The novel begins with David Case's baby brother teetering atop his bedroom window ledge, poised and ready to jump. David luckily turns around in the knick of time to save him, and in reaction to his brush with his ill-fated destiny (What if he had turned around a second too late? What if his brother had jumped and he wasn't there to save him?), he decides to adopt a new identity in order to trick fate. "He'd avoided tragedy this time, yes, but next time the arrow (the bullet, the boulder, the bomb) would find its mark...His only chance was to remake his life one step at a time, starting with his name." He won't get hurt if he changes his identity, right?

Enter Justin Case, David's alter ego. Armed with a new name, new thrift store clothes picked out by his kooky new photographer friend Agnes, a new dog (albeit, an imaginary one) and a new attitude, Justin (David) feels safe from harm. The ploy seems to be working --- that is, until he starts cracking up. He moves out of his parents' house to go live at the airport, where he apparently finds solace in its anonymity. When Agnes finally figures out where he's gone to, she visits him and they both narrowly escape certain death when a plane crashes into the terminal, killing hundreds. Fleeing from the mayhem, the two retreat to Agnes's apartment, where they have sex and promptly stumble into dysfunction as Justin professes his love for her and she feigns flattery but inwardly cringes from embarrassment that borders on the verge of disdain.

In a series of reactions, jerks and starts, Justin hurdles through various stages of remorse, cosmic disillusionment, hatred and confusion before settling into a morbid depression that he has no desire to lift himself out of. Especially after Agnes's horrifying gallery opening. Especially after the incident that lands him in a coma.

All in all, JUST IN CASE is as bumpy as its protagonist's mood swings. There are sections where Rosoff's prose sings with grotesque beauty and her characters, especially Justin in his subtle vulnerability, are gorgeous to watch. But often the plot twists seem too outlandish and out of synch with the characters who are invariably mature beyond their years. Readers prone to reading Existentialism in coffee shops and fans of David Lynch might be the perfect audience for such a topsy-turvy read. To them, JUST IN CASE won't always make sense --- but maybe it doesn't have to.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on August 8, 2006

Just in Case
by Meg Rosoff

  • Publication Date: August 8, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
  • ISBN-10: 0385746784
  • ISBN-13: 9780385746786