Thursday 18 August 2011

REVIEW - 'Just In Case', Meg Rosoff (Penguin UK, 2006)

This is the story of David Case. On the run from fate, which he is convinced is out to get him (and he's not completely off the mark on this one), he changes his clothes, his world, his name.  Meet Justin Case...(do you see what she did there?)..Can he really out run fate?

Now, I really, really, really, wanted to LOVE this book. In fact, I expected to love it. I pretty much took it for granted. Which is unfair, on any book, opening it up, expecting to adore it, when 9 times out of 10, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.

I like most books I read. I enjoy many. But I love a very select few. And these very select few include three Meg Rosoff books.

I'm a recent convert to Rosoff. In the last six months, upon deciding to pen my first young adult novel, I have made it my mission to immerse myself in all things YA. 'What I Was' was one of the first books I picked off the shelf of my local library and it pretty much had me at hello. It was love at first word... Ok, maybe sentence.

And when I say love, I mean I fell completely in love. A feeling that was repeated when I started both 'How I Live Now' and 'The Bride's Farewell.' I love them for there uniqueness as well as their similarites. But here is not the place to talk about these books. Just trying to put this review in a bit of context...

I really did try to care about David/Justin, but he was a very difficult boy to warm to. Rosoff does an excellent job in creating a very insular world - we inhabit the existence of someone going through a process that most people may struggle to comprehend. And she manages to make his fundamental problem seem a very real concern. How do you make the completely irrational appear rational? Well, she nails it, for the most part.

My main problem with this is the characters; as with our protagonist, they give us very little to hang our emotions onto. Most just seem to drift on the surface of the story, threatening to make an impact but never delivering.  David's parents are apathetic, selfish and generally a bit useless. The only reason for this behaviour that I sould see was to move the plot forward. These characteristics are not put into an appropriate context - would the parents of a troubled teenager be this uncaring? And if this is the case, I need a convincing reason to explain this behaviour.

I had a MAJOR problem with Agnes. A 19-year-old fashion photographer who spots potential in the unique 'Justin' persona, winning his affections, but using him for her own gain. Are we supposed to empathise with her or despise her? Personally, I just thought her downright annoying. We are given her point of view without getting any insight into her personality, apart from the fact that she's a bit of a quirky dresser.  She in neither involving nor sympathetic. And what is an edgy photographer and fashionista doing living in Luton? Not entirely implausible, but never alluded to or explained.

I must mention the point of view, which flicks back and forth between characters, sometimes mid-paragraph. Now, Rosoff has used this technique in other books, but it was so seamless and skilfully done, I have barely noticed. But here, it jars and interrupts the flow of the narrative. Again, annoying.

However, one thing I cannot fault is the prose, her amazing use of language. I don't think I have come across an author who can use so few words to describe so much and create such an impact.

Maybe it's unfair of me to expect so much. All the right components are there, but the characters let the story down, and without them, the rest just doesn't cut the mustard.

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