Lance Rubin's Denton Little's Death Date presents a universe where everyone knows the date of their death, and 17-year-old Denton Little's death date is tomorrow. He might not know the exact time he will die, but somewhere in those twenty-four hours, his life will expire. As Denton explains, "People have known that tomorrow is the day I will die since I was born. Just like almost everyone else in the world knows the date when they will die, thanks to the group of doctors, scientists, statisticians, and astrologers led by the Nobel Prize-winning, featured-in-every-science-textbook-ever Herman Mortensky, who pioneered the field of AstroThanatoGenetics (ATG)." The reader tunes in on the day before the day he will die, as he wakes up disoriented and hungover in his best friend's sister's bed, with a sneaking suspicion that he has cheated on his girlfriend.
Denton Little's Death Date has a limited amount of time to tell its story, less than forty-eight hours in total. From Denton's disoriented morning, to his 2 p.m. living funeral, to his Sitting (where he sits in the living room of his house with his family and closet friends, awaiting the moment he's going to die). He spends time with his girlfriend Taryn (who he did cheat on), his best friend Paolo, Paolo's sister Veronica, his dad, stepmom, and brother Felix. There's also a subplot involving Taryn's ex-boyfriend Phil, who Denton skewers during his eulogy,
"And, Phil," I continue, "I just want to say that I don't like you. I have this reputation for being such a nice guy, a really good guy, so people think I'll just put up with lameness. But I really don't want to. You're a tool. You were the worst part of being on the cross-country team, and I hope you excluded yourself from that nice thing I just said about everyone else on the team. Because it didn't include you. You suck."As the day goes on, Denton discovers a mysterious rash with moving, red dots spreading across his legs, and slowly infecting some of the people who are close to him. Complications abound in the final hours of his life, as Rubin slowly unravels a governmental plot that places Denton at its center. There were so many laugh-out-loud moments in the first half of the book, but I found the governmental plot kind of took away from the humor, becoming more cliched as the novel went on (and setting up a sequel). I was so interested in the concept of "death dates," and of a teenager having known since the age of five that he was going to die before graduating from high school. It reminded me of the 2009 indie movie TiMER, where people can elect to be embedded with a matchmaking device that counts down the time until they meet their soul mate. Some characters have timers that end their count when they are 42; others are adolescents when their timer runs out. The idea that some events are fixed and immutable carries through both TiMER and Denton Little's Death Date.
But I wanted to read more about that than a conspiracy plot. For a book about a boy who has a death date, in a world where everyone knows the day that they will die, I found myself feeling slightly cheated that he made it through the day without actually dying. The stakes weren't raised by the governmental plot; they were lowered. I also found the secondary characters became lost in the shuffle, especially a girl named Millie, who seemed to exist so that there was at least one teenage female character in the novel who wasn't having sex with Denton.
Overall, I did enjoy Denton Little's Death Date, especially for the first half of the novel. The chemistry between Denton and his best friend Paolo is excellent, and Rubin creates fantastic dialogue that ping-pongs back and forth between them. I'll most likely pick up the sequel when it comes out to see where it picks up with the story, and for more of Rubin's hilarious writing.