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.
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).