on April 14, 2015
Genres: contemporary, science fiction
Pages: 345 pages
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Fans of John Green and Matthew Quick: Get ready to die laughing.
Denton Little’s Deathdate takes place in a world exactly like our own except that everyone knows the day on which they will die. For Denton, that’s in just two days—the day of his senior prom.
Despite his early deathdate, Denton has always wanted to live a normal life, but his final days are filled with dramatic firsts. First hangover. First sex. First love triangle—as the first sex seems to have happened not with his adoring girlfriend, but with his best friend’s hostile sister. (Though he’s not totally sure—see, first hangover.) His anxiety builds when he discovers a strange purple rash making its way up his body. Is this what will kill him? And then a strange man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton’s long-deceased mother, and warning him to beware of suspicious government characters. . . . Suddenly Denton’s life is filled with mysterious questions and precious little time to find the answers.
Debut author Lance Rubin takes us on a fast, furious, and outrageously funny ride through the last hours of a teenager’s life as he searches for love, meaning, answers, and (just maybe) a way to live on.
The premise for Denton Little’s Deathdate: Denton Little lives in a world where everyone knows the day they will die. When you’re born, your guardians send in some hair and blood, and bam! Deathdate revealed. Denton is an Early – a person whose deathdate falls before their 21st birthday – and he just wants to be a normal teenager who *isn’t* fated to die during his senior year of high school. Denton’s deathdate also happens to fall on the same day of his senior prom.
So the book takes us through Denton’s final days on this earth: a brutal hangover, his own funeral, sex with his girlfriend, sex he can’t remember with his best friend’s sister, a strange cop who keeps following him around, a strange man who promises he knows mysterious things about his dead mother – all culminating in prom night, the day Denton is supposed to die. (Whether this was intentional or not, I appreciated that – as in any comedy about teens – the significant action goes down on prom night.)
The first half or so of Denton Little’s Deathdate was great. If the entire book had been about a teenage boy coming to terms with the day of his death, I’d have been perfectly happy. The novel does look at how AstroThanatoGenetics’s technology changes the ways in which people live their lives. Your funeral is the day before you die: all of your loved ones deliver speeches; so do you. “Sittings” (like wakes) are held on the day you die; you spend the day hanging out with your family or whatever. Children are forced to confront the inevitability of their own mortality in a very particular way (to know you will die and to know *when* you will die are two very different things).
It’s a really interesting topic – the tiny details of the world-building were the best parts of the novel to me: Denton tells us, for example, that people aren’t allowed to fly on their deathdates (though they are, to my mind, inexplicably allowed to operate motor vehicles); that being deathdated doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be injured in other horrible ways before your deathdate shows up; that being deathdated isn’t mandatory in any country except Germany.
In terms of the actual story, though, I found the surprise twists and turns to be both somewhat predictable and also distracting. The book has a madcap, frantic energy that worked sometimes, but overall? I wanted more emotional depth to the story. Despite the fact that Denton believes he’s facing his last day on earth (and he does – as far as he or anyone else knows, no one has ever managed to live past their deathdate), much of the book focuses on the crazy, quirky adventures of Denton and his pals rather than exploring what the emotional reality of this situation is like for Denton. (And maybe that’s an unfair criticism, but I do feel like humor and emotional depth can work together; it just wasn’t there in this book for me. The focus is definitely on the action – who’s this mysterious dude? to whom did Denton lose his virginity? who’s driving that yellow car? oh no, a man with a gun!! – rather than the development of Denton or any of his family and friends as characters.)
I also wasn’t wholly satisfied by the ending. Here’s why: View Spoiler » If you tell me that tomorrow is someone’s deathdate, I WANT IT TO BE THEIR DEATHDATE. I did kind of suspect that the book would end with Denton escaping death – for at least one more day – but I was bothered when it happened anyway. What happens: Denton evades death because his mom injected him with a virus that allows him to escape his deathdate. But why does this matter? The implications are that all folks could then escape their deathdate. But your deathdate is … a random day. I don’t understand why being able to push off your deathdate matters? He could still die any random day – which is *what is happening anyway* – it’s just that people know WHEN that random day is. The problem isn’t when you die, it’s having the technology to know about it. I don’t see that the huge government conspiracy + his mom being alive + Denton is also alive actually solves anything. But that’s me. YMMV. « Hide Spoiler
Additionally, most of the humor kind of missed its mark with me. (I know that I’m not this book’s intended audience, so hey, your mileage may vary.) It’s a quirkier and more flippant read than I wanted, I think. This may have also been in part because some of the humor is of the “isn’t it funny when two boys joke about sleeping together but are actually not at all gay for each other” variety. If this had happened once or twice, I might have been able to deal with, but they’re joking *constantly* about how Denton and his best friend are so gay for each other, but it’s very clearly always a super hilarious joke. (And that gets old for me because I feel like the humor in that situation is derived from the impossibility of such a relationship ever happening. And this is particularly painful to me because, you know, as a queer teen, you sometimes do think that same-sex relationships are an impossibility. It’s not a hilarious joke! And yes, I know there’s a gay adult in the story, but that doesn’t change the dynamics of Denton’s relationship with his best friend.)
So: this didn’t work as well as it could have for me, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. I think the humor was on-point for a lot of folks, and I’m bummed that I wasn’t one of them. Pick it up if you’re interested in a super light-hearted, action-packed read about what it’s like to live with a different relationship to mortality.
Has anyone else read this one yet? If so, what’d you think?
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.