Just in Case
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David Case is a fifteen-year-old boy on the verge of adulthood—and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After his younger brother nearly falls from an open window, David becomes acutely aware of his own mortality and the haphazard nature of fate.
Certain that fate has something truly horrible in store for him, David goes about changing his identity in an attempt to trick fate, and avoid the suffering and unhappiness that is his destiny. He changes his name to Justin, buys an outlandish new wardrobe, and takes up a new hobby in his attempt to escape the doom or fortune of David Case. What David doesn’t realize, however, is that Justin Case comes with his own set of predicaments and freak happenings.
Just in Case is a coming-of-age novel for teenagers and adults alike, for anyone concerned with the path of his or her life and its ramifications. It forces us to think about the consequences of our actions, the connection between seemingly random events, and the effects of friendship, love, and tragedy.
Meg Rosoff was born in Boston and had three or four careers in publishing and advertising before she moved to London in 1989, where she lives now with her husband and daughter. Formerly a YA author, Meg has earned numerous prizes including the highest American and British honors for YA fiction: the Michael L. Printz Award and the Carnegie Medal.
Q. What made you choose fate as a subject for this novel? What about the subject intrigued you and continues to intrigue you? Did you believe in the concept of fate before you began writing the novel—and what did the process of writing about the subject reveal to you?
A. A writer friend once told me, that “writing reveals your obsessions.” It sounds obvious, but I’m not sure I realized I was interested in fate until my two younger sisters were both ill with cancer, and my formerly rational family all turned terribly superstitious. Suddenly we were all picking up pennies and running away from black cats, where formerly we’d have laughed at the thought. It occurred to me then that a desire to find meaning in talismans can be a sign of depression, it can symbolize a desire to regain control of the uncontrollable aspects of life—and of death, in particular. The desire to make pacts with god, for instance, is overwhelming at moments of great danger—as they say, there are no atheists in foxholes.
On a slightly lighter note, when I was very young, my mother told my sisters and me that we would each someday meet “Mr. Right,” get married, and live happily ever after. As a somewhat dark child, this thought terrified me. The responsibility for finding that one person among the billions of strangers on earth overwhelmed me—what if we met but for some reason didn’t recognize each other? So fate began to worry me early on. Many years later, I heard a writer interviewed on the radio, talking about the death of her son. He’d fallen off a roof fifty years before, and she said that every day since then, she relived the moment of reaching out to grab him, missing by just two inches, two seconds. And each time she reran the film, she hoped that this time the outcome might be different. That terrible two seconds seemed to me to encapsulate an essential truth about existence7mdash;that catastrophe does lurk just below the surface of every life, and that every trivial moment could turn out to be earth shattering. The way an entire existence can turn 180 degrees on an instantaneous event continues to haunt me. I often think about the story of the guy who overslept on 9/11 and didn’t make it to work—certain he’d be fired. Instead, it saved his life.
Of course having recognized the essentially terrifying and tragic nature of life, we each have to figure out a way to go on living.
And finally . . .
Do I believe in fate (as in a cognizant force that has the power to shape our lives)? Absolutely not. But you wouldn’t catch me walking under a ladder either.
Q. How I Live Now also features a teenage protagonist (and narrator). What do you find compelling about this particular age in terms of character and thematic development? What are the disadvantages (if any) of writing about characters with limited life experience and scope?
A. The great thing about having teenage protagonists is that they can absorb the extremes of human experience without tell their shrink all about it. I’ve put endless midlife crises into teenage characters, and they play perfectly well, because in early life your sense of reality and the possible are still incredibly flexible. As a writer I’m interested in the edges of reality, what happens in that weird, extreme area of human experience that we increasingly ignore as we get older. You can take an eighteen year old to terrifying extremes without putting him on Prozac or locking him up in a mental hospital afterwards.
I’ve always been interested in coming-of-age stories—from Pride and Prejudice to Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, by way of Catch-22, Portnoy’s Complaint, Persepolis . . . the list is endless. The possibility for dramatic transformation is huge.
Q. How I Live Now is also being made into a movie. Do you see Just in Case as an equally good candidate for a live-action film? What elements of the story would be particularly difficult for a filmmaker to portray accurately, in your opinion?
A. We’ve sold dramatic rights to Just in Case around the world, but there’s no movie planned for it yet. It’s tricky to portray invisible greyhounds and Fate as a narrator on film—though who knows? Usually movies get made because someone falls in love with a story and decides they have to dedicate the next ten years to getting it made. Maybe the right masochist just hasn’t come along yet . . .
Q. What are you working on now? When can we expect to see another of your novels in bookstores?
A. I’m just finishing a novel set in England around 1850—about a girl from a tiny village who wakes up early on the morning of her wedding day and runs away to seek a different life. It’s a love story of course, but a typically odd one. There’s a white horse in it, and I’ve had to stop myself getting one—“for research purposes only.” I ended up buying two half-greyhound puppies after writing Just in Case, so I’ve learned my lesson: Don’t Fall in Love with Your Characters! (especially when they need at least an hour and a half in the park every morning and are born squirrel murderers).
- Just in Case has been called a work of magical realism—one in which the fantastic (thoughts, feelings, dreams) and the pragmatic (action and speech) are combined to create a more complete and authentic sense of reality. Toddler Charlie “speaks” eloquently to his older brother; Peter and Dorothea and Anne can “see” Boy, Justin’s imaginary dog; and Fate is an omniscient narrator and character of the novel. Discuss whether these elements provide a more authentic sense of reality than a hardboiled depiction of Justin’s psychological crisis might have done.
- Fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined by the events that happened before them, and there is no possible alteration of the events in one’s life. This book not only deals with the subject of fate, but also makes Fate a sentient being who narrates Justin’s story and interacts with Justin at various points in the plot. What do you believe Rosoff is saying to us about the fatalist viewpoint?
- Charlie nearly falls out of an open window, and instead of reflecting on almost losing Charlie, David worries about how his own life could have changed if he hadn’t caught his brother and stopped him from falling. Discuss how David’s narrow perception is age-appropriate, and how we see these qualities alter and change as the novel progresses. How does Agnes provide an element of irony to David/Justin’s solipsism?
- When Justin meets Agnes she helps him find the right clothes for his new identity—bizarre combinations that he never would have attempted as David. Agnes herself dresses outlandishly. How does the element of garments fit into the thematic development of the story, and what do they symbolize?
- How many other “visual” elements (or episodes) in this novel reinforce the subject of perception? What is Rosoff saying about the value of perception through characters like Peter and Dorothea, who can “see” Boy, and characters like Agnes or Justin’s mother, who are reluctant to acknowledge the dog’s existence?
- What parallels exist between characters in the novel? How are Agnes and Dorothea similar? What can we infer about age and/or gender by comparing Ivan and Justin, Agnes and Dorothea, Justin and Agnes, or Peter and Justin?
- After the plane hits the Luton airport, the relationship between Agnes and Justin shifts. Discuss their different ways of coping with the disaster—what does it reveal about their characters? Is Agnes, at this point, a sympathetic character or an antagonist? What does her photography and fashion exhibit suggest about her method of coping with hardship? What is significant about its difference from Justin’s way of coping with hardship?
- Agnes’ photography and fashion exhibit serves as a turning point in the plot in various ways, but how in particular does it show significant change in Justin? What is unusual and important about the way he reacts when he learns of Ivan’s death outside the exhibit? What does it show us about Justin’s evolving sense of perspective about fate and its consequences?
- Compare and contrast the significance of the following: 1) Agnes, Peter, and Justin’s trip to the seashore and 2) Justin’s nighttime encounter/altercation with the vixen and Alice the rabbit. What important information is revealed to us about the characters in each of these scenes? What kind of metaphors and/or allegory do we find in these parts of the novel?
- Evaluate the novel’s ending. Is it satisfying? Appropriate? Realistic? How does it act as both a resolution to the book and support for the book’s theme?