On My Bookshelf: When by Victoria Laurie

June 04, 2018

When by Victoria Laurie falls into the categories of mystery, suspense, and thriller, and the twists in the plot kept me hooked until the end. Maddie's ability to see peoples "death dates" seems like a gift until she become involved in a murder investigation. A number of believable red herrings and realistic character development make the novel a hit. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: Maddie doesn't have a choice. The forehead of every person she sees is marked by the shadowy digits of their deathdate. Her unique, innate skill often feels more like a curse than a gift, and Maddie grudgingly puts it to use identifying deathdates for the paying customers her mother reels in. It seems like a straightforward way to help support her family-until one client's young son goes missing on the exact date Maddie has pinpointed, and she gets pulled into a homicide investigation that turns her world upside down.

As more young people disappear and are later found murdered, suspicion swirls around Maddie. At once a suspect in the investigation, a target for the murderer, and a partner in a tantalizing dance with a boy who might be connected to it all, could Maddie also hold the key to cracking the case?


Why I liked it: When falls into the categories of mystery, suspense, and thriller, which are all outside of my usual reading habits, but the twists in the plot kept me hooked until the end. As an adult reading young adult literature I can usually figure out how things are going to play out, but in When there were several believable red herrings that kept me from figuring out who the bad guy really was. I also appreciated the character development in the novel. Maddie, other than her "gift," was a realistic teenage girl and her mother's struggle with alcohol were realistically depicted as well. I loved the character of her uncle Donny, her hotshot lawyer, bachelor uncle who is always sweeping in to rescue her, but also takes her out to lunch just because.
When by Victoria Laurie falls into the categories of mystery, suspense, and thriller, and the twists in the plot kept me hooked until the end. Maddie's ability to see peoples "death dates" seems like a gift until she become involved in a murder investigation. A number of believable red herrings and realistic character development make the novel a hit. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

My two complaints about the plot are minor. First, Stubbs, Maddie's best friend make a remarkable and unrealistic recovery from his time in prison, which included a stay in solitary confinement to protect him from other prisoners. Second, the plot line surrounding Maddie's love interest was also a bit unrealistic. Maddie has a crush on a boy she sees once a year at football games, which is entirely based on his looks and incredibly superficial. Then suddenly she runs into him in several different places and he ends up moving in next door with his father, who happens to be one of the agents who investigated the deaths connected to Maddie and also saved her life. Coincidence overload there. 

Classroom application: This book is a great one to recommend to students who are fans of April Henry's books like Girl, Stolen and crime TV shows like Criminal Minds. There are some dark themes (murder, death, a serial killer), but otherwise the book is appropriate for upper middle school and up. Maddie's talent, the ability to see "death dates," would certainly lead to interesting classroom conversations. Would students want to know their death date or not? How would knowing change how they carried out their lives?

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of When for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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