YA Review: I Know When You’re Going to Die

Title: I Know When You’re Going to Die
Author: Michael J Bowler

Michael J Bowler’s tightly paced thriller begins with a gift. Leo is volunteering at homeless shelter, when one of the men gives him the power to see someone’s death when he looks into their eyes. The old man tells him to make wise choices, assures Leo that he’s the right person to take on this gift, and then dies, leaving Leo without guidance or advice. I would call this book ‘wholesome teen horror’ – and I realise I’m going to have to explain myself!

Leo is a shy rich kid in a school of rich students. He never looks anyone in the eye, so it takes effort to test his gift for the first time. His best friend Juan Carlos (J.C.) encourages him to look into the eyes of strangers on the street and in shops, testing his visions and trying to decide whether Leo can really see what he claims to see. The proof arrives uncomfortably quickly, and the boys must decide what to do with the information Leo has discovered. Can they stop a murder, or could getting involved be the trigger for a deadly shooting? When Leo accidentally looks into his friend’s eyes, they need to work together to uncover the circumstances of J.C.’s death, and find out whether they can prevent it.

There are plenty of twists and scares as the story progresses, and the two boys come up with a plan. With their friend Laura, fellow victim of the school bully, they piece together a way to keep J.C. safe, while setting a trap for the would-be killer. The climax of the story is exciting and scary, and with the identity of the killer in doubt, the friends must work together to protect each other and figure out who they need protection from.

So that’s the horror part – there’s a supernatural gift, genuine peril, and a haunted house – but what about the wholesome aspect of the story? Throughout the book, Leo, J.C. and Laura all demonstrate ideal behaviours, and their actions are contrasted with bullies, emotionally absent parents, a school principle who blames them for being bullied, kids who are more interested in partying than helping their community, and with the various killers and would-be killers Leo uncovers with his gift. They support each other, they defend each other from bullying, and they build strong relationships without any sexual overtones (Laura has a girlfriend, and Leo and J.C. have a strong, trusting friendship). The ending is emotional, putting their actions, and Leo’s ability, into a larger context, and there are consequences for the bad guys.

This is an exciting story. Michael J Bowler is a screenwriter as well as a novelist, and as I read the action sequences I could easily imagine them playing out on a movie screen. I loved the premise of Leo’s power, and the mysterious man who chooses him to receive it. The tension between Leo’s vision of J.C.’s death and their attempts to understand and prevent it keeps the pages turning. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, and the positive representation of young people helping their communities and giving up their time to help others. There’s a strong moral steer in this book, but it doesn’t feel preachy. The engaging story presents the relatable characters as role models without making them perfect, providing a balance with the genuinely scary elements of the book. If thrilling cinematic wholesome teen horror appeals to you, this is a great place to start!

Have you read I Know When You’re Going to Die? What did you think of the story? What would you do if you had Leo’s power? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

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