Reading guide for Just In Case by Meg Rosoff

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Just In Case

by Meg Rosoff

Just In Case
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2006, 256 pages
    Jan 2008, 256 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!


David Case is a fifteen-year-old boy on the verge of adulthood—and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After his younger brother nearly falls from an open window, David becomes acutely aware of his own mortality and the haphazard nature of fate.

Certain that fate has something truly horrible in store for him, David goes about changing his identity in an attempt to trick fate, and avoid the suffering and unhappiness that is his destiny. He changes his name to Justin, buys an outlandish new wardrobe, and takes up a new hobby in his attempt to escape the doom or fortune of David Case. What David doesn't realize, however, is that Justin Case comes with his own set of predicaments and freak happenings.

Just in Case is a coming-of-age novel for teenagers and adults alike, for anyone concerned with the path of his or her life and its ramifications. It forces us to think about the consequences of our actions, the connection between seemingly random events, and the effects of friendship, love, and tragedy.

Discussion Questions

  1. Just in Case has been called a work of magical realism—one in which the fantastic (thoughts, feelings, dreams) and the pragmatic (action and speech) are combined to create a more complete and authentic sense of reality. Toddler Charlie "speaks" eloquently to his older brother; Peter and Dorothea and Anne can "see" Boy, Justin's imaginary dog; and Fate is an omniscient narrator and character of the novel. Discuss whether these elements provide a more authentic sense of reality than a hardboiled depiction of Justin's psychological crisis might have done.
  2. Fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined by the events that happened before them, and there is no possible alteration of the events in one's life. This book not only deals with the subject of fate, but also makes Fate a sentient being who narrates Justin's story and interacts with Justin at various points in the plot. What do you believe Rosoff is saying to us about the fatalist viewpoint?
  3. Charlie nearly falls out of an open window, and instead of reflecting on almost losing Charlie, David worries about how his own life could have changed if he hadn't caught his brother and stopped him from falling. Discuss how David's narrow perception is age-appropriate, and how we see these qualities alter and change as the novel progresses. How does Agnes provide an element of irony to David/Justin's solipsism?
  4. When Justin meets Agnes she helps him find the right clothes for his new identity—bizarre combinations that he never would have attempted as David. Agnes herself dresses outlandishly. How does the element of garments fit into the thematic development of the story, and what do they symbolize?
  5. How many other "visual" elements (or episodes) in this novel reinforce the subject of perception? What is Rosoff saying about the value of perception through characters like Peter and Dorothea, who can "see" Boy, and characters like Agnes or Justin's mother, who are reluctant to acknowledge the dog's existence?
  6. What parallels exist between characters in the novel? How are Agnes and Dorothea similar? What can we infer about age and/or gender by comparing Ivan and Justin, Agnes and Dorothea, Justin and Agnes, or Peter and Justin?
  7. After the plane hits the Luton airport, the relationship between Agnes and Justin shifts. Discuss their different ways of coping with the disaster—what does it reveal about their characters? Is Agnes, at this point, a sympathetic character or an antagonist? What does her photography and fashion exhibit suggest about her method of coping with hardship? What is significant about its difference from Justin's way of coping with hardship?
  8. Agnes' photography and fashion exhibit serves as a turning point in the plot in various ways, but how in particular does it show significant change in Justin? What is unusual and important about the way he reacts when he learns of Ivan's death outside the exhibit? What does it show us about Justin's evolving sense of perspective about fate and its consequences?
  9. Compare and contrast the significance of the following: 1) Agnes, Peter, and Justin's trip to the seashore and 2) Justin's nighttime encounter/altercation with the vixen and Alice the rabbit. What important information is revealed to us about the characters in each of these scenes? What kind of metaphors and/or allegory do we find in these parts of the novel?
  10. Evaluate the novel's ending. Is it satisfying? Appropriate? Realistic? How does it act as both a resolution to the book and support for the book's theme?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Plume. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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