Meg Rosoff’s young adult novel Just in Case opens with a voice we soon discover is fate, addressing the reader in the first person. Fate says it can “look out across the world and see everything,” including a fifteen-year-old boy and his brother. The novel then moves into a third-person narration that shifts rapidly between the viewpoint of different characters; the third person will continue to alternate with short, first-person asides from fate throughout the novel.
The “fifteen-year-old boy” fate mentions is David Case of Luton, England, and the novel begins with David’s one-year-old brother, Charlie, climbing into an open windowsill and believing he hears a bird telling him to fly. David spots his brother just in time and rescues him seconds before he falls to his death. The reader is privy to Charlie’s thoughts, and they are remarkably complex and knowing for a one-year-old, even though he cannot express them in words. In his mind, Charlie gives a thorough explanation of why he was on the windowsill, but all that comes out of his mouth is “Burr-dee fly.” In response to the incident, David, rather than feeling lucky he rescued his brother in time, is distraught by how close he came to disaster.
In the next chapter, the narrative briefly shifts back a year, to when Charlie was born and first came home from the hospital. We learn that Charlie was self-aware from birth, and the baby contrasts a younger, carefree, happy David he sees in photos to the incredibly anxious teenager David has become.
Back in the present of the story, David, thanks to the windowsill incident, becomes convinced that fate is out to get him. He decides to remake his entire life, beginning with his name, in an effort to trick fate and escape its notice. He changes his name to Justin, a name he considers hard, intelligent, and sophisticated, “more competent” and “less vulnerable” than David. Justin heads to a thrift store to find new clothes for his new persona; there, he meets an outlandishly dressed nineteen-year-old named Agnes Bee. He explains his obsession with fate to her, and Agnes, a photographer, takes pictures of him in different outfits she suggests.
In the following chapter, the first-person voice of fate formally introduces itself to the reader, saying, “My name is Kismet…SYN: Chance.Providence. Destiny. Luck. Fate.” Fate reveals that it knows exactly what Justin is trying to do, and that Justin’s a fool to think he can evade his fate.
Justin wakes up on the first day of school and wishes he had a dog—specifically, a sleek, elegant greyhound—so he imagines one and names it Boy. Boy follows Justin to school, where only one student, Peter Prince, actually talks to him; the others make fun of him for wearing odd clothes and insisting his name is now Justin, not David.
One day, Peter reveals that he can see Boy and begins to interact with the imaginary dog; Justin feels the line between reality and fantasy becoming “dangerously” blurred. Justin begins to consider Peter a friend—like Justin, Peter is made fun of, in Peter’s case for being a bit of a “science geek”—and Justin even confides in Peter about his anxieties involving fate.
At school, the cross-country coach asks Justin to join because the team needs more runners. He has always hated sports and is reluctant, but then he realizes joining will be a perfect way to change his identity. At first, he can barely make it through practice, but he is determined and quickly improves. He thinks of his greyhound for motivation and wonders if perhaps he could outrun fate.
One day, Agnes calls and asks Justin to meet her at a café, where she shows him the pictures she took. Justin thinks he looks “like someone else entirely” in the pictures, wan and nervous. Agnes asks him to go to London with her on the Saturday after next, and he agrees.
After an uneventful two weeks, Justin is on the way to the train station to meet Agnes. He is lost in a fantasy about a sexual encounter with Agnes when he walks straight into a lamppost and falls to the ground. An eleven-year-old girl, who is later revealed to be Peter’s sister Dorothea, happens to be at the scene and helps him up; she can hear the confusion inside his head and wonders when they will meet again.
In London, Agnes leads Justin to a clothing shop run by an eccentric designer named Ivan. Ivan gives Justin a long, outlandish, gray shearling coat—he explains the coat is too small to fit anyone rich enough to buy it. In the days that follow, Justin wears his new coat all the time, feeling that it protects him and helps establish his new identity.He takes it off only to sleep and run, and he finds himself really beginning to enjoy running, as it helps him rise above bodily limitations and become “less and less like David.”
David invites Agnes to his first cross-country meet, and she comes.During the race, Justin hears a voice he believes to be fate saying “Run, run, as fast as you can!” Terrified, he does run as fast as he can and wins the race. Afterwards, Agnes hands him a magazine, but he throws it away without looking at it.
The next day in school, a girl approaches Justin while holding the same magazine and asks him to go to a party with her. He is interested but says no, afraid of all the things that could possibly go wrong. The girl ends up going to the party with a different boy and dating him, and even though Justin does not particularly like her, he feels defeated by his...
(The entire section is 2252 words.)