What I Just Read: Denton Little’s Deathdate
By: Josh O'Shea, Young Adult Librarian
Summary: In a world where everyone knows the day they will die, a teenage boy is determined to outlive his upcoming expiration date.
Thoughts: I just finished this one. In the near future, bio-science enables people to know when they’ll die — down to the day. People don’t know how they’ll die, or what time on a particular day, only that that day will BE IT. So, they have big parties, kids don’t have to go to school, and the people who will die get their own funerals.
The main character, Denton, knows his death date is just days away. Denton’s death day is the day after his high school prom. The book starts with him waking up in a bed he doesn’t remember getting into the night before. So, as you might guess, a big part of the book is Denton trying to figure out what happened to him and about his last decisions. It’s very much a “what would you do if you knew” type of book. He has his last meal — stuff he likes, nothing too extravagant. He doesn’t want to go someplace exotic, or do something crazy (although crazy things happen).
This book is full of dark humor, what some people call gallows humor. Some readers might be put off by it. But I take the point of view that death is one of those things that can be so serious it becomes overwhelming for us to contemplate. Laughter is one of the best ways to affirm life and push through a hard situation when it feels dire. There are times when laughter can be insulting and negative; the difference tends to be about context and how laughter is used. One of the ways that laughter — whether it’s a big guffaw or a smirk — enlivens this “you know when you’ll die” book is that the characters, especially Denton, use laughter to feel normal. Sometimes the best way to cope or deal with extreme situations is to act normally.
Denton doesn’t deliberately try to make people laugh all the time because doing so would feel forced and fake, both to the readers and to the characters. Instead, Lance Rubin writes dialog and situations in such a way that we can’t help but guffaw. For example (and I paraphrase), Denton is in the bathroom trying to get away from the death-party. Everyone who loves Denton, and some people who don’t, are suffocating him with their support and pity. After he gets in and shuts the door, he discovers his friend Veronica already there, also trying to escape. Denton’s best guy friend Paolo knocks on the door and says, “Just want to make sure you’re not… you know… dead yet.” When Paolo finds out Veronica, his sister, is in there as well, he says, “What?! Uh! I mean, I love you guys like brothers, I mean, I’m the brother, and you two aren’t brothers; well, Denton is like my brother, and V, you’re my sister, man… uh… it’s weird but I’m okay with it.”
Some heavy stuff happens, some weird stuff happens, and we can’t help but hope Denton doesn’t die — even when he thinks he’s ready.Tags: books, dark humor, Josh O'Shea, recommendations, teens, What I Just Read