author: Victoria Laurie
published: 13 January 2015
publisher: Disney Hyperion
genre(s): contemporary, fantasy
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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 thehow, 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?
The premise of When was fantastic! Maddie is a 16yo girl, gifted/cursed with a unique psychic ability. She has the ability to see the death dates of people, both when she sees them and in photographs. The dates appear as small numbers floating near the forehead. Her gift/curse doesn’t allow her to see the where’s and how’s of it, nor does it allow her to change anything for those people. She sees just the date. And she is never wrong.
The mere idea of such an ability is chilling to me. To be so incredibly immersed in death all of the time. To be judged and ridiculed. On one hand, the ability could bring comfort to those afraid death is near when they find out it isn’t. On the other hand, the ability can be painful, knowing that someone has only a short time left. I can’t imagine the pain of having to tell someone that they or someone they love is going to die imminently, much less having to do it over and over again.
Needless to say, this has been both a gift and curse for Maddie. She is a highly intelligent girl, but this ability has made her a bit of a social pariah. After losing her father in a shootout, her mother turned to alcohol, leaving Maddie to care for them both from a young age. The drinking got to such a point that Maddie was forced to provide readings for money to survive. The idea that a mother would be so selfish as to force her daughter to do something so painful so often, simply so that she (the mother) could indulge in her booze habit was reprehensible to me. As much as I loved Maddie, her mother drove me insane.
While I loved the premise of the book and I loved Maddie, I had some issues with the realism, or lack of it, in places. I think that is a direct result of being a lawyer’s daughter and watching too many cop shows! Less than 24 hours after her son goes missing, a mother reports him missing and suddenly the FBI is involved. After that, things went from 0 to 60 very quickly and in ways that didn’t seem realistic to me. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I will leave it at that!
Despite my issues, I enjoyed this book. The concept is so unique and it is one that really makes you think. What would you do if you had the same ability? Would you tell people and risk social isolation, or would you hide it? Can you imagine what life would be like to be so surrounded by the concept of death all the time? How would you handle it?