An Addicting and Exciting YA Debut
by Victoria Laurie
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
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?
Victoria Laurie is a professional psychic and a long-time writer of suspenseful and highly readable paranormal mysteries in the adult genre (the Psychic Eye and Ghost Hunter series). She has published in the children’s book market as well with her Oracles of Delphi Keep series. When marks her first foray into the Young Adult field and she enters it as if she’s been writing for teens her whole life.
For many years I was a huge fan of Laurie’s Psychic Eye novels, practically salivating in anticipation of each new book and devouring them in a matter of hours as soon as they were published. The recurring cast was wonderful, the stories captivating, and the writing usually free of problems. All that added up to books that were enormous fun to read. But book 9, Vision Impossible, was a let-down (for reasons I went into at length on Goodreads, but which have no bearing here), and I have been unable to summon the courage to continue the series (until now!). So while a hopeful curiosity drove me to request a review copy of When, I kept my excitement in check for fear of further disappointment.
One aspect of the story’s setup immediately troubled me. We’re told that Maddie’s been forced by her unemployed, alcoholic mother to do ‘deathdate’ readings to earn extra money since all they have to live on are the proceeds from a wrongful-death settlement against the city after her father had been killed. A reader might rightly wonder where Officer Fynn’s police death benefits and pension were, and where his Social Security and life insurance payouts got to, and so on. And anyway, thinks the reader, how can a wrongful-death suit be brought and won against a city because one of its policeman died in the line of duty? Surely the bad guys weren’t on the municipal payroll. Well — this isn’t a huge deal, and I explained it away in a vague, there-might-be-things-we-don’t-know sort of way, though I grimaced at the need to do so.
But I am happy to say that once past that little bump, When takes flight and never looks back. The writing is straight-forward without a hint of flowery language (though I do wish Laurie had not so frequently used the word “dully”), which enables the story to move forward at a break-neck pace. As in her adult series, the main characters are almost instantly likeable. Laurie has a gift similar to that possessed by Christopher Pike (at his best) and Meg Cabot. She’s able to introduce and develop her primary cast so quickly that you’re absorbed in the plot and caring deeply about the actors before you realize it. And speaking of the plot, this is a good, solid mystery, with subtle misdirections creating suspects a-plenty, an elusive villain who does indescribably horrible things to his victims, and unending threats to our heroine from all sides (even from the good guys). A sense of claustrophobia is built up and maintained as Maddie seems unable to go anywhere with safety, nor can she find relief from the constant stress and anxiety overwhelming her life. Whenever she tries to clear her name, she only manages to make her and her best friend appear more guilty. Meanwhile, people keep dying.
Romance plays virtually no role in the story, which is absolutely the correct way to go. When Maddie’s thoughts turn to the guy she’s been crushing on for years, they are immediately smothered by the oppressive fear hanging over her. That is far truer to life than what you get in most YA books these days, where teenagers in dire situations, surrounded by life-threatening danger at every turn, are still able to writhe with love-driven angst. Although there may not be a heart-stirring romance between these pages, there’s a lot of love nonetheless. Maddie’s loyal Uncle Donny is the white knight who tirelessly aids his damsel-in-distress niece, offering not only expert legal aid but a shoulder to cry on. And were it not a spoiler, I would mention another winning character whose shoulder gets wet and who was one of my favorite people in the book.
Yes, in this age of invulnerable, world-conquering, teenage female protagonists, Maddie Fynn cries. And why not? She’s a good, quiet, bright sixteen-year-old girl who acts her age and feels with her heart and thinks with her brain. (The book’s welcome anti-drug stance comes from the mouth of our disgusted heroine who must deal on a daily basis with the burden of a cigarette-addicted and alcohol-addled mother.) She has an inner toughness, but when circumstances cause her to despair, she breaks down just as we would, and indeed, just as we do. For in every book of hers I’ve read, Laurie’s characters eventually tap your tenderest feelings and moisten your eyes. She is outstanding at drawing forth the reader’s sympathy and empathy in both happy times and sad.
I mentioned Christopher Pike: The climactic scenes of When are fully worthy of that master of teenage horror and suspense. The pages get blood-splattered and rev up the reader’s adrenaline, and not all the characters survive unscathed, or survive at all. Some escape with bruises and breaks and cuts and bullet holes, but for several — well, their number’s up.
Readers of the Psychic Eye series will recognize Laurie’s ploy of the stern, disbelieving FBI agent who has to be wooed and won, but aside from that, in character and plot this novel, while benefiting from the author’s experience, is unique among her output. When is my favorite of Laurie’s work and it deserves to be a big hit. I’m delighted that she’s plunged into YA territory and hope that it’ll be a long stay!
— Jennifer Michelle
4.5 of 5 Hearts. An Addicting and Exciting YA Debut.
If you’re looking for a can’t-put-down mystery-thriller in the teen genre, you cannot do better than When. It’s a terrific stand-alone by an author who has been writing best-selling mysteries for over a decade. But be forewarned: A Victoria Laurie novel is like the best homemade chocolate chip cookies — when you finish one, you’ll want to gobble up the whole batch. Check Laurie’s website for a complete list of her books by series.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Disney Book Group and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”