Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Way We Fall

This is my first book review of the year. I plan on there being 49 more books to follow. See more about my goal here.

So, to kick off 2012, I picked a really happy one. An encouraging, this-is-gonna-be-a-great-year one. An inspirational, life-is-great one. Not really. Not at all.

The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe, is ultimately a tragedy. It's a young adult novel about an island that gets quarantined when a mysterious virus starts killing people. I knew, sort of, what I was getting into. I like stories where people beat the odds, where there's real danger but the characters eventually kick it in the teeth. This wasn't quite what I expected.

Kaelyn is the narrator of the story, writing it as a journal to a childhood guy friend she fought with and, hence, hasn't spoken to in two years. I didn't like the very first page because I was confused by the tenses and timelines, since it was immediately addressed to Leo and talked about how she'd just seen him leave on the ferry and was remembering him waving to her leaving five years earlier and how she hadn't talked to him in two years. Confusing. But once I sorted it out, it wasn't quite so bothersome that the book was written as a journal to him. For the most part, it's a first person narrative where she tells her story daily, which is interesting because she (and, thus, the reader) never knows what's going to happen next.

Kaelyn is determined to change. Leo said it was her fault that she didn't have many friends, so even though it made her mad once, she's sorry now and ready to be as friendly as she can be. But, ironically, when the disease hits, it messes with the brain, making people more friendly than they ought to be, and Kaelyn's dad, a doctor and scientist, makes Kaelyn and her family stay home to avoid the disease. But it's not enough, and then people start dying.

There were parts of the book that were particularly painful. A little seven-year-old girl witnesses her dad get shot right in front of her (of course, when you have mysterious diseases, other societal problems come along with it), and I thought of my own children. But the book is written so engagingly that I read on, hoping to see how it would all be resolved. Except, it isn't.

(SPOILER ALERT) Kaelyn's mother dies, her brother disappears, and then Kaelyn gets sick but recovers, one of a very few in her position. The whole island is dying, but miracle of miracles, Kaelyn's boyfriend and her dad never get sick, though they are often in close proximity to the disease. Kaelyn's dad ends up dying another way, and I was scratching my head wondering what the sense of it was and why he didn't get sick in the first place when Kaelyn was as careful as he was and had fewer encounters with the disease. But I guess viruses are just like that, I wouldn't know.

Now, I have to tell you that the copy of the book I read is an advance reader's copy. The book comes out this month. But there are some major errors and overlooked plot holes in my version that I hope they iron out by final publication. The main thing is that all the chapters are headed with a date, as in most journals, but according to the dates, Thanksgiving takes place in the middle of October (the author is Canadian, or at least lives in Canada, so maybe she doesn't know...ha), which would make Christmas a month later. There's no mention of Christmas, and the book goes through December 23, so even moving the dates wouldn't make a lot of sense. I could easily see skipping Christmas in an epidemic like that, but you'd think it would at least be mentioned, since Thanksgiving is, after all.

And then, there's the end. I'm doubting this book is part of a new series. The idea seems like a one-book kind of thing. But the end is a little like the end of the first book in a series. There is some emotional resolution. The character learns about herself through her journal, and that, at least, feels complete. But the plot is not entirely, or even mostly, resolved. (SPOILERS AGAIN) Her brother never turns up. The disease is not cured, though it appears to no longer be spreading. Kaelyn gives her blood to save her little cousin, but though the story implies it might work, we never get to see if it does. We don't get to see Leo's response to the journal, although, I admit, that wouldn't make sense if she did, indeed, give the journal to him. It seems like the romance at the end is there more to make the book feel complete than to contribute to the plot, and it seemed a little tacked-on to me. I like the romance in the book, but the part at the end just doesn't mesh with the rest of the book. The story feels open-ended, like more could follow, you want more to follow, but you don't expect it to. However, the book does give fair warning with a title like The Way We Fall and not The Way We Fall and Rise Again. Still, I wanted more.

The F-word is used a few times in the book, but understandably so. Because of it and the nature of the story, I'd recommend this book only to more mature young adults. Otherwise, there's a little violence, but the book is mostly morally sound.

It seems like I've complained a lot about this book, but I actually did enjoy the characters and, eventually, the way it was told through Kaelyn's journal. If this type of story appeals to you, this is a decent one to read. Three stars.

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