★★★★★ The concepts of predestination, of being able to see and affect the future, of having a unique glimpse into the workings of life and death, all pervade the narrative of I Know When You’re Going to Die by Michael J. Bowler. The novel opens on a young man, Leo Cantrell, who is painfully introverted and reserved, serving his local LA homeless population at a mission shelter. He is only sixteen, but he already possesses wisdom, kindness, and compassion beyond his years. He frequents the homeless shelter with such regularity that he knows everyone, and everyone knows him. There’s one man in particular, though, who catches his eye one fateful day. He stares deeply into his soul, and the man endows him with a remarkable gift: the ability to see exactly when and how others will die when he looks into their eyes. The man tells him, “I gave you a great gift, boy. Or maybe a curse.” And for the remainder of the novel, Leo explores whether his newfound ability truly is a gift or a horrible curse. His entire world turns upside down when he’s forced to look into his best friend J.C.’s eyes, and he sees his brutal murder only two weeks in the future. It’s a race against the clock for them to try to figure out how to bend the rules of predestination, prevent the murder from happening, and identify the would-be killer. With the help of the new girl at their high school, Laura, J.C. and Leo attempt the nearly impossible and defy fate. Will their attempts be thwarted? Will they be able to ensnare the potential murderer? Only time will tell.
Because I Know When You’re Going to Die is written in the first-person, Leo’s perspective, the reader enjoys a deep introspective look into his psyche as he processes the implications and repercussions of the ability he didn’t ask for, but nonetheless has. It’s an intimate way to tell such a heart-pounding tale that centers on the ideas of fate, decency, and humanity. Leo grapples with what is right, with what it means to have the power to look into someone’s eyes and see their death. He struggles with whether or not to warn them. Would he want to know, were he in someone else’s shoes? When it comes to his closest friend in the world, though, the choice is clear, and that choice informs and drives the remainder of the narrative into complex and interesting places heretofore unimagined by other novels of the same genre. Death is an inevitability, but this coming-of-age YA novel explores the very real lengths to which we will go to preserve love, life, and all that is precious within those concepts. Beyond the scope of the narrative, the language of I Know When You’re Going to Die captivates and enthralls the reader to the very end. It’s the kind of literary style that gets wonderfully stuck in your head and entreats you to keep reading well past the time you told yourself you would stop.