Just in Case

Just in Case

by Meg Rosoff

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Overview

Carnegie Medal Winner 
 
From the 2016 recipient of the Astrid Lindgren award and author of international bestseller How I Live Now, National Book Award finalist Picture Me Gone, and most recently Jonathan Unleashed

David Case never questions his ordinary suburban life — until one fateful day, a brush with death brings him face to face with his own mortality. Suddenly, everywhere he looks he sees catastrophe, disaster, the ruin of the human race, the demise of the planet...not to mention (to pinpoint the exact source of his anxiety) possible pain and suffering for himself.

So he changes his name, reinvents his appearance, and falls in love with the seductive Agnes Bee — in the hope that he'll become unrecognizable to Fate and saved from his own doom. With his imaginary greyhound in tow, Justin Case struggles to maintain his new image and above all, to survive in a world where twists of fate wait for him around every corner.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452289376
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/29/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.06(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.67(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Meg Rosoff grew up in Boston and worked in advertising for fifteen years before writing her first novel, How I Live Now, which has sold more than one million copies in thirty-six territories. It won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Printz Award, was short-listed for the Orange Prize and made into a film. Her subsequent five novels have been awarded or short-listed for, among others, the Carnegie Medal and the National Book Award. The laureate of the 2016 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, she lives in London with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Her most recent novel is Jonathan Unleashed.

Read an Excerpt

Just In Case


By Meg Rosoff

Random House

Meg Rosoff
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385909098


Chapter One

The view is fine up here. I can look out across the world and see everything. For instance, I can see a fifteen-year-old boy and his brother.

1

David Case's baby brother had recently learned to walk but he wasn't what you'd call an expert. He toddled past his brother to the large open window of the older boy's room. There, with a great deal of effort, he pulled himself onto the windowsill, scrunched up like a caterpillar, pushed into a crouch, and stood, teetering precariously, his gaze fixed solemnly on the church tower a quarter mile away.

He tipped forward slightly towards the void just as a large black bird swooped past. It paused and turned an intelligent red eye to meet the child's.

"Why not fly?" suggested the bird, and the boy's eyes widened in delight.

Below them on the street, a greyhound stood motionless, his elegant pale head turned in the direction of the incipient catastrophe. Calmly the dog shifted the angle of his muzzle, creating an invisible guyline that eased the child back an inch or two towards equilibrium. Safer now, but seduced by the fact that a bird had spoken to him, the boy threw out his arms and thought, Yes! Fly!

David did not hear his brother think "fly."

Something else made him look up. A voice. A finger on his shoulder. The brush of lips against hisear.

So that's where we start: One boy on the verge of death. Another on the verge of something rather more complicated.

In the instant of looking up, David took the measure of the situation, shouted "Charlie!" and lunged across the room. He grabbed the child by the cape of his Batman pajamas, wrapped his arms around him with enough force to flatten his ribs, and sank to the floor, squashing the boy's face into the safe hollow beneath his chin.

Charlie squeaked with outrage but David barely heard. Panting, he unpinned him, gripping the child at arm's length.

"What were you doing?" He was shouting. "What on earth did you think you were doing?"

Well, said Charlie, I was bored just playing with my toys and you weren't paying attention to me so I thought I would get a better look at the world. I climbed up on the window which wasn't easy and once I managed to do that I felt strange and happy with nothing but sky all around me and all of a sudden a bird flew past and looked at me and said I could fly and a bird hasn't ever talked to me before and I figured a bird would know what he was talking about when it came to flying so I thought he must be right. Oh and there was also a pretty gray dog on the pavement who looked up and pointed at me with his nose so I didn't fall and just when I was about to leap out and soar through the air you grabbed me and hurt me a lot which made me very cross and I didn't get a chance to fly even though I'm sure I could have.

The little boy explained all this slowly and carefully, so as not to be misunderstood.

"Burr-dee fly" were the words that came out of his mouth.

David turned away, heart pounding. It was useless trying to communicate with a one-year-old. Even if his brother had possessed the vocabulary, he couldn't have answered David's question. Charlie did what he did because he was a dumb kid, too dumb to realize that birds don't talk and kids can't fly.

My god, David thought. If I'd been two seconds slower he'd be dead. My brother would be dead but I'd be the one shattered, crushed, destroyed by guilt and blame and everyone everywhere for the rest of my life whispering He's that kid who killed his brother.

Two seconds. Just two seconds were all that stood between normal everyday life and utter, total catastrophe.

David sat down hard, head spinning. Why had this never occurred to him? He could fall down a manhole, collapse of a stroke. A car crash could sever his spinal cord. He could catch bird flu. A tree could fall on him. There were comets. Killer bees. Foreign armies. Floods. Serial killers. There was buried nuclear waste. Ethnic cleansing. Alien invasion.

A plane crash.

Suddenly, everywhere he looked he saw catastrophe, bloodshed, the demise of the planet, the ruin of the human race, not to mention (to pinpoint the exact source of his anxiety) possible pain and suffering to himself.

Who could have thought up a scenario this bleak?

Whoever (whatever) it was, he could feel the dark malevolence of it settling in, making itself at home like some vicious bird of prey, its sharp claws sunk deep into the quivering gray jelly of his terrified brain. He pulled his brother close, tucking him in against his body, pressed his lips to the child's face.

What if . . . ?

He became enmired in what if.

The weight of it wrapped itself around his ankles and dragged him under.

2

A year earlier, David's father had woken him with a shout.

"David, your mother's home! Aren't you interested in seeing the baby?"

Not really, David thought, burying his head in his pillow. I know what a baby looks like.

But then they were in his room, grinning and making inane noises in the direction of a small, serene-looking creature with jet black eyes.

David sat up with a groan and peered at his new brother. OK, seen him, he thought.

"Of course he can't see you yet." His father, superior as ever. "Babies can't focus properly for weeks."

David was about to go back to sleep when he noticed the new baby gazing at him with a peculiar expression of calm authority.

I'm Charlie, said the new baby's eyes, as clearly as if he had spoken the words out loud. Who are you?

David stared.

His brother repeated the question slowly, politely, as if to a person of limited intelligence. Who, exactly, are you?

David frowned.

The baby inclined his head, his face registering something that might have been pity. Such a simple question, he thought.

But if his brother knew the answer, he gave no sign.

This disturbed Charlie. Over the next few months, he tried approaching his parents for answers, but his father was always at work and his mother seemed strangely ill informed on the subject of her older son.

"He's usually on time," she would comment brightly, or "I wish he'd tidy his room more." But nothing about who he was. And when she caught Charlie staring intently at David, she merely thought, How sweet. They're bonding.

But they weren't bonding. Charlie was comparing the David he knew with the Davids he saw displayed around the house in family pictures. The younger Davids looked cheerful and carefree; they held books or bikes or ice creams and gazed at the camera with expressions of trust. The younger Davids kicked balls, swung from trees, blew out the candles on birthday cakes. They had clear edges and cloudless eyes.

But the David that Charlie knew now was wavery and fizzy with nerves. The new David reminded Charlie of a birthday card he'd seen where the picture of a clown shifted gradually into the picture of a tightrope walker, depending on how you tilted it. Exactly when this transformation had begun, the child couldn't say. According to the photos, his brother's outline had begun to blur sometime between playing football at thirteen and losing his status as only child the following year.

Charlie had spent a good deal of his short life worrying about his older brother. Now he paused in the middle of playing Monkey Rides in a Car with Donkey to gather his thoughts. He saw that his recent attempt to fly had been a mistake. It seemed to have nudged his brother past some invisible tipping point and this filled him with remorse. Charlie wanted to make amends, to offer advice on how David could regain his footing. But he couldn't get his brother to listen.

Or perhaps he was listening, but somehow lacked the capacity to understand. This worried Charlie most of all.


From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from Just In Case by Meg Rosoff Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
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.

 


ABOUT MEG ROSOFF

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.

 


A CONVERSATION WITH MEG ROSOFF
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).

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • 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?

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