After eleven minutes underwater at near-freezing temperature, Delaney Maxwell, who appeared dead upon rescue, is revived.  Unlikely as her survival seems, the return of apparently normal brain function seems even more unlikely, yet after a few days she is allowed to go home with medications and resume a near-normal life. But after-effects of her trauma linger, the most dramatic of which is that she develops a sixth sense about impending death. She hides this recurrent sensation from her parents, and from her best friend, Decker, who rescued her, but finds that she shares the experience with a hospital aide who, like her, suffered a coma after a car accident that killed his family members. Like her, he senses death in others. Gradually Delaney realizes that “normal” isn’t a place she’s likely to return to, and that Troy, the aide whose life has been a kind of “hell” since his own trauma, is even further from normal than she. Troy seems to feel that it is his mission to help hasten death for those who are dying, to prevent prolonged suffering.  The story follows her efforts to stop him, and to communicate with close friends, especially Decker, in spite of the secret she carries about her own altered awareness. When her efforts to save a friend who is dying of a seizure fail, Delaney faces another moment of crisis, compounded by Troy’s own suicidal desire to end his own suffering and hers with it. In the midst of these new traumas a clarity she has lost about what it means to choose life returns to her, and with it the possibility of a loving openness with parents and friends about the mysteries of her own brain and heart.


The writer, a biology teacher who admits her own fascination with medical mysteries, especially those that have to do with brain function, successfully keeps readers in the borderland between science and mystery in this young adult novel, called a thriller by some critics.  The book shares some of the common characteristics of y.a. novels—high school cliques and romances, social insecurities, tensions with parents—but all its conflicts are heightened and sharpened by the insistent fact of mortality, which faces both kids and parents in new ways after Delaney’s near death and later the actual death of a friend with a long-term seizure disorder.  The characters are so entirely believable that when paranormal experiences are introduced, they demand due consideration rather than easy dismissal.  The book is valuable for the ways it invites reflection on where science meets spirituality, what the brain has to do with the self, and how we work out our own understanding of categories like “paranormal,” “abnormal,” and, perhaps most consequentially, “normal.”     


Walker and Company

Place Published

New York



Page Count