First in a series (?)
By Lance Rubin
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE is one of those stories that switches genre partway through. It starts out as a black comedy about a teenage boy who knows he's going to die tomorrow and struggling with how he wants to go out and what he wants to do in the limited time before he dies. Then, it shifts into a paranoid conspiracy thriller. (Admittedly, this shift is seeded early in DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE.)
I found the world debut author Lance Rubin created fascinating. He only makes one big change to the world as it is, but he clearly thought through the consequences of that change. Due to future genetic developments, a simple test can find out on what day you're going to die. There are a small percentage of people who are undateable, including Denton's best friend Millie. The US is one of the few countries to make deathdate testing mandatory. There's a pretty elaborate set-up for the whole thing: a funeral the day before, then a Sitting the day of. (This helps ensure that people who are about to die aren't on a plane, for instance, since that indicates that the plane might crash.)
These are also all recent changes: Denton's grandfather remembers what life was like before everyone knew their deathday. (This also helps explain why none of the other technology in the book seems that different.) I particularly liked the detail, sad as it was, that Denton's best friend Paolo is set to die one month later. That is the kind of thing kids would bond over.
Denton's voice is extremely appealing. He's a funny guy, and one who tries to look on the bright side even though he's been dealt a bad hand. He could be unlikeable, since DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE starts with him cheating on his girlfriend. But he still worked for me as a sympathetic narrator, because he acknowledges that a) he thought they were broken up and b) he was blackout drunk, but c) that doesn't absolve him of guilt and if he did it while drunk, it was potential lurking in him all along. Of course, that doesn't mean he immediately wants to fess up and hurt his girlfriend. Except he may have just given two girls a (fatal) STI.
I'm not entirely sure the shift in genre and tone worked for me. It comes so late in the book (about the last 1/5) that there isn't really time for the explanation of what's really happening to breathe. Even though there are solid hints about what's going on beforehand, the change in pace is massive. It also causes some of the humor of Denton's voice to get overwhelmed by the action. It also builds to an ending that I'm not sure stands on its own.
DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE is a funny, clever book. I enjoyed the first part of the book more than the ending, but I still found the whole delightfully weird and fun. I hope for future adventures with Denton, and I'm sure Rubin has plenty of great books ahead of him.