July 23, 2014


Summer reading - this is a shove-it-in-your-beach-bag book for sure. A quick, non-demanding novel which will leave you feeling a little leery, and carefully observing your friends. It's a tale of falsehoods and friendship in a tiny English beach town. The cover doesn't exactly match the reality as described in the novel, but it ups the drama. Enjoy!

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jess Tennant is accompanying her newly-divorced mother from their home in London to the tiny seaside town of Port Sentinel. There's nothing there for Jess -- all her friends, and her father are back in London -- but for her mother, there's a whole childhood and young adulthood, a lifetime of memories, and a twin sister, her husband, and her three children whom Jess has never even met.

And, there's essentially the ghost of Freya. Freya, who was her cousin. Freya, who was almost identical to Jess. Freya, whose battered body was found in the sea below the sheer cliff on Sentinel Rock, who may or may not have flung herself off.

Jess finds the stares and the pointing disturbing -- yes, she looks just like her dead cousin. Get over it, all right? But what she doesn't expect is to be thrust into the weirdness of a small town - the internecine squabbles, the labyrinthine loyalties. Nobody wants to talk about what really happened to Freya -- how she really died. And, too many people are warning Jess to stay out of it.

Maybe that's how they play things in small towns. That's not how it's going to go down with Jess. Freya was family -- and though they've never met, Jess feels responsible - and a responsibility to find the truth.

The View from the Peak: I love family stories - and I love a well-constructed family, where people have natural roles, and ebb and flow in an organic fashion. Freya's family is grieving her loss. Her bedroom is exactly the same - but tidied - her sketchbooks and her things in the art room are the same, but tidied away, though it's been a year since she's been gone. The siblings tell jokes, but just as often step back, with sadness clearly haunting them. It seems like their grief is mostly proceeding normally - some days are worse than others, but over all, they've accepted that she's gone. The descriptions of the seaside town are lovely and quaint, and remind me a great deal of Oban and Largs in Scotland -- little seaside towns in Britain apparently have a lot in common. The characterizations of the village residents are also quite detailed and you can easily imagine yourself there.

The smaller family of Jess and her mother are a little less organic, a little less naturally situated, which leads us to...

The Rest of the Mountain: The "villains" of the piece were easily read and were presented early and clearly, so it's not at all that this was intended to be a mystery. I was more troubled by some of the characterization of Jess herself -- she's meant to be from London, she's sixteen, which means she's fairly independent, nearly done with school, and well able to get around and take care of herself -- and yet, several situations get out of her control, and she's at times oddly passive about them. People kiss her, and she just... lets them, even though internally she objects strenuously. A man touches her, and she feels he's gone WELL over the line, and she flees in fear. She's characterized as being a no-nonsense, sharp person who stubbornly decides to prove what happened to her cousin, and yet seems stopped by things which should not have tripped her up. I suspect the author is laying some ground for a sequel, and that some of the things which disturb me might not have bothered anyone else.

But what truly troubled me was an inability to feel a true connection to the characters of either Jess or Freya, though arguably, we "see" Freya for a much shorter period. We're told that Jess becomes obsessed to find out what happened to her cousin, but I found that I didn't feel any reason for this -- that is, I felt no emotional connection between the girls, and couldn't understand why. I found that to be the weakest part of the book; I was unconvinced that Jess either suddenly or gradually came to so love her lost relative so much that she simply HAD to know the last moments and details of her life. She hit the ground asking questions like a London detective, but few reacted with sincere horror at what should have seemed like a macabre interest. Instead, she got nicely suspicious anger. She asked questions, but more from a sense of pique, it seemed; she could see no one wanted to talk about it, thus she did.

There was no real diversity in this book - of faiths or ethnicity or gender or sex, which is perhaps unsurprising in a small town in England, but it was a tourist town, so it was surprisingly undifferentiated. Most of the characters were from the same class, the same ethnicity, and the same age group. While I felt a little... led through the narrative arc in this story, a little herded through a maze, as it were, the plot unfolded neatly with few surprises for me. Those who enjoy mild thrillers and summer stories will enjoy the heroine's stubbornness, the bad people's ...badness, the hint of romance and the rest of the tight-knit cast of the small town of Port Sentinel.

Though this book was published in 2013 in Britain, after August 26th, you can find HOW To FALL by JANE CASEY in America online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

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