David Case was doomed. Everywhere he looked he saw threats: plane crashes, car crashes, bird flu, serial killers, nuclear waste, alien invasions. The dark malevolence of it weighed on him and wrapped itself around him. This preoccupation with impending tragedy started when he caught his little brother about to leap out the window, attempting flight. Had David been two seconds slower to the rescue, little Charlie would be dead.
Hence, David's new preoccupation with Fate. What do you do when Fate has it in for you? If you're David, you change your name and maybe Fate won't find you. So David Case becomes the more tentatively named Justin Case. Nothing bad can happen to him because he really doesn't even exist. Little does he know that Fate is a character in the novel Just in Case, too, appearing every now and then in short, bold-faced chapters, just to remind us of its existence. In case we forget. Just in case.
Meg Rosoff won the 2005 Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature for her first novel, How I Live Now, the story of a 15-year-old girl who goes to live with relatives in England, only to find herself caught up in the outbreak of the third world war. The first-person voice she created was perfect for putting readers right in the head of her self-absorbed teenager. David Case is self-absorbed, too, but the third-person voice here provides more space for the working out of this rich tale not just David's story or Justin's story, but Fate's, too.
In escaping Fate, Justin attaches himself to a band of quirky characters who will help him move beyond his self-absorption into the fold of family and friends. But that's how David's tale is resolved. Before he gets there is the heart of the book, a quest of sorts, including an invisible dog, a first sexual encounter, a plane crashing into the airport right where Justin had been standing moments before, and an almost fatal disease. Fate plays a particularly rough game of cat and mouse with David, whose mouse's tale is notable for electric prose, ruminations about life, death and fate, and characters who are larger than life, larger than fate.
Dean Schneider is an English teacher in Nashville.