ARC Review: Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin


title:  Denton Little's Deathdate

author:  Lance Rubin

pages: 352

format: Kindle

isbn/asin: 978-0553496963

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 6.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrew Portes, or the movie Heathers.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes, I like his style enough.  
will i continue the series?:  Eh, I'm curious but I also don't want more in the same weird thriller-y vein.  

My Ratings Explained

Fans of John Green and Matthew Quick: Get ready to die laughing.

Denton Little's Deathdate takes place in a world exactly like our own except that everyone knows the day they will die. For 17-year-old Denton Little, that's tomorrow, the day of his senior prom.

Despite his early deathdate, Denton has always wanted to live a normal life, but his final days are filled with dramatic firsts. First hangover. First sex. First love triangle (as the first sex seems to have happened not with his adoring girlfriend, but with his best friend's hostile sister. Though he's not totally sure. See: first hangover.) His anxiety builds when he discovers a strange purple rash making its way up his body. Is this what will kill him? And then a strange man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton's long-deceased mother, and warning him to beware of suspicious government characters…. Suddenly Denton's life is filled with mysterious questions and precious little time to find the answers.

Debut author Lance Rubin takes us on a fast, furious, and outrageously funny ride through the last hours of a teenager's life as he searches for love, meaning, answers, and (just maybe) a way to live on.

the basics
Rubin immediately hooked me with his preposterously, darkly funny premise: Denton Little knows the day that he will die, and he's determined to make his last day his best.  Deathdate delivers on this promise with a quirky first person narration that smoothly navigates the space between profound and irreverent.  There are hangover revelations.  Funeral dance parties (with disco ball).  Unexplained purpleness.  Denton is dying, but he's also just an eighteen-year-old boy with limited tact and a wayward libido--endearing, despite the times you'll want to smack him.  The first half or so is a delightful mix of teenage antics and moments of true connection.  Rubin manages to comment on the cruel terror of death while also celebrating life.  However, my interest wavered towards the end, when the quirky fun gives way to a clumsy mystery and an unsatisfyingly abrupt ending.  Despite slips in its execution, Deathdate is a meaningful, funny novel that will appeal to the idiot teenager in everyone.  

plot . 3/5
Deathdate sometimes feels as though Rubin were trying to write two different books, and I think that's most easily seen in the plot.  The first half, perhaps three-quarters, is a trip with Denton through his Deathdate celebrations.  With his hours ticking away, Denton contends with a wicked hangover and hazy memories, eating a last family breakfast, delivering his own eulogy, and finding a way to make his last moments meaningful.  The mix of silly misunderstandings and heartfelt moments reads like a summery teenage contemporary--with an edge.  The trouble started with the introduction of a mysterious stranger who knew Denton's mother, and a strange purple mark.  These pieces fed into some kind of thriller conspiracy hi-jinks that belonged in a dystopian, not a high school black comedy.  Imagine dropping Jason Bourne into The Breakfast Club.  Sort of.  I found myself eager for a return to the first half's whimsy, only to reach an ending that seemed to be selected for shock value more than suitability.  Deathdate works best when it focuses on Denton's relationships with his peers and family; I wish it had stayed that way.   

concept . 4/5
Conceptually, the novel benefits from a quirky set-up that's also incredibly familiar.  Who hasn't wondered, at some point, when they'll die?  Societies for ages have concocted superstitions and rituals to forewarn the fated.  I can think of a few times when I've debated the merit of knowing or not knowing.  So, Rubin gives us that hypothetical.  In this near-future society (unless you go by the sometimes dated references), genetic technology has allowed the government to pinpoint your exact day of death.  A little far-fetched, but Rubin uses it well, introducing all sorts of amusing side-effects.  The U.S. has an End of Life department to help you close accounts and manage affairs.  You attend your own funeral, then sit up with your loved ones until the final minute.  Without getting heavy-handed, Rubin allows Denton to wonder how knowing his death his changed the way he lived his life, and to marvel at the simultaneous sweetness and terror of the last day's rituals.  Really, the part that took it from cool to camp was the overshadowing of the human focus with the haphazard cat-and-mouse game.  

characters . 4/5
Rubin seems to have pulled real people from the world and given them just a little tweak--for the most part.  Denton is that boy you knew.  He's liked but not popular, handsome but not melt-worthy, awkward but not off-putting.  You can't help but like him, bumbling idiot that he is.  At the end, he wants to be true to himself and others--and just to be a teenage boy.  His best friend, Paulo, is a firecracker on acid, funny and silly and glowing on every page.  By contrast, Denton's parents are a realistic counterpoint, and help to ground Denton's character through their interactions.  His father is clueless but loving, his stepmother a supportive mama bear.  I only wished that Rubin had crafted his girls as carefully.  The girlfriend, Taryn, is too simpering and flighty, while Veronica is all unfulfilled potential.  Veronica comes to the surface in one touching scene with Denton, but her character development is forestalled by the Plot Twist of Doom.  

style . 4.5/5
While I've known many women who can write realistic teenage boys, Rubin does have a bit of an experiential edge.  The narrative voice he concocts for Denton is cheeky and clever, sometimes deadpan, sometimes whimsical, even sometimes profound.  It's not overly polished.  Denton rambles.  He's sarcastic to the point of stretching a joke flat.  He's spastic.  He thinks a lot about sex.  I was able to connect with him deeply in part because his voice was so authentic; even when he did things that I wanted to smack him for, I was able to empathize with him and cheer him on.  Though Rubin gets a little too clever sometimes and a little too explain-y, for the most part he captures the hysterical vitality of teenage-ness, and the heaviness of impending doom.  

I rifle desperately through my brain-files for any shred of last-night memory I can safely insert into this sentence.

...And you may be back, even a week from now, in the body of a rabbit or a chipmunk or a squirrel (you will wonder if there's a reason Bert has limited your reincarnation possibilities to three fairly similar rodents)... 

I am some sort of demented sugar god.   

mechanics . 3/5
Worldbuilding is a crucial element of any book, not just the sweeping fantasies often attached to this term.  If you're setting your book any time into the future, you need to vividly imagine that future in a way your readers will buy.  Rubin takes a stab at this, but slipped up enough that I'd find myself pulled from the story.  So, we have a world where science can pinpoint your deathdate to the exact day using an algorithm of genetics, family history, etc.  A little magical, so we're talking at least fifty years from now.  So, why does the lingo sound so 90s and 00s?  Why would Denton think about Kurt Cobain?  Chip and Dale?  (Who are probably not remembered even by today's teenagers.)  And are they seriously still playing "The Cha-Cha Slide"?  These are minor notes, but they were enough to give me pause and divide my attention.  

take home message
With whimsy and heart, Denton Little's Deathdate offers up a quirky adventure of one boy's effort to find meaning in his life on the day of his death--and maybe finally lose his virginity.  Dark, funny, and human.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  


  1. Haven't heard of this one! Might try searching for it in the library!

    1. I hope you enjoy it! It was really fun.