Take the Fall by Emily Hainsworth (Balzer + Bray)
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Balzer + Bray
Format read: ARC via publisher
Fear grips the residents of Hidden Falls the night Sonia Feldman and her best friend, Gretchen Meyer, are attacked in the woods. Sonia was lucky to escape with her life, but Gretchen’s body is discovered at the bottom of a waterfall. Beautiful, popular, and seemingly untouchable, Gretchen can’t be gone. Even as Sonia struggles with guilt and confusion over having survived, the whole town is looking to her for information…could she have seen something that will lead the police to the killer?
At the top of the list of suspects is Gretchen’s ex-boyfriend—and Sonia’s longtime enemy—Marcus Perez. So when Marcus comes to Sonia for help clearing his name, she agrees, hoping to find evidence the police need to prove he’s the killer. But as Gretchen’s many secrets emerge and the suspects add up, Sonia feels less sure of Marcus’s involvement, and more afraid for herself. Could Marcus, the artist, the screwup, the boy she might be falling for have attacked her? Killed her best friend? And if it wasn’t him in the woods that night…who could it have been?
However, the more I thought about it, the more I ended up rethinking my original opinion. While Hainsworth has crafted an elaborate murder mystery with drama, intrigue and lots of intriguing and morally ambiguous people doing slightly horrible things to each other, all of it was strongly undermined by the revelations involved with that ending.
We're told a certain set of circumstances for the entirety of the book and we take the book at its word. We buy it, because if there's one thing Hainsworth is exceptional at, it's writing a tale that entices the reader along and convinces us of the thoroughness of the world and foundation building.
But by the end, the rug is yanked out from underneath us, forcing us to rethink everything we've read and learned. And while I applaud Hainsworth for having the sheer gumption for taking it there, I also can't help but feel that it undermines the relationship that readers have built with Sonia and the rest of the characters in the book. We can't trust anything we've read, and what's worse - is that we end up actually not getting a resolution.
Bottom line: Hainsworth is a gifted writer, and has proven with Take the Fall that she only gets better as time continues. The mystery is intriguing; the characters are memorable.
However, the book ends up being undermined by an ending that only leaves the readers scratching their heads and thinking, "Okay...what now?"
About the author:
Emily Hainsworth was raised in upstate New York but quickly fled its gray skies for the sunny Rocky Mountains. She currently resides in Denver with her family. Emily is also the author of Through to You, which VOYA called, in a starred review, “fresh, exciting, and haunting.” You can visit her online at www.emilyhainsworth.com.
The Leaving Season by Cat Jordan (HarperCollins)
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by HarperTeen
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Middie Daniels calls it the Leaving Season—the time of year when everyone graduates high school, packs up their brand-new suitcases, and leaves home for the first time.
It happens every late August, but this year Middie’s boyfriend, Nate, is the one leaving. Nate, who’s so perfect that she can barely believe it. Nate, who makes her better than she is on her own. Nate, who’s promised to come back once he’s finished his gap year volunteering in Central America.
And when he does, it’ll be time for Middie to leave, too. With him.
But when tragedy strikes, Middie’s whole world is set spinning. No one seems to understand just how lost she is…except for Nate’s best friend Lee.
Middie and Lee have never gotten along. She’s always known that she was destined for great things, and Lee acts like he’s never cared about anything a day in his life. But with the ground ripped out from under her, Middie is finding that up is down—and that Lee Ryan might be just what she needs to find her footing once more.
So. I've disliked love triangles since Pearl Harbor, when young me plaintively asked my parents why Kate Beckinsale's character hooked up with Josh Harnett, because she had been dating his best friend.
It felt like the ultimate betrayal to me, even as my parents gamely tried to explain to me that grief was a tricky thing. Sometimes, you just wanted to be with the person who knew your lost loved one best. However, I didn't buy it then, and have hated any similar fictional situations since that point.
Thus, I went into The Leaving Season with a certain amount of trepidation. The synopsis made it clear that Middie and Lee were headed down that path, and I was prepared to despise it, with the same fire of a million suns that I had toward Beckinsale/Harnett/Affleck.
However, to my surprise...I didn't.
Because from the very first chapter, Cat Jordan makes a convincing case for the idea that Middie is being defined by her relationship with Nate. This isn't an equal partnership where she has her own say, and own values. This is a relationship built on hero worship; and an inherent belief that Middie needs to play at Nate's level. They both seem to think she's not good enough on her own.
So it actually makes complete sense that she'd reach out to the frustrating, devil-may-care Lee, in the aftermath of her grief. He doesn't have exacting standards; he's there to sass and accept her for her, and he's also willing to challenge her to be less than perfect, especially as they both struggle to move past their loss.
Though the push and pull between the memory of Nate and Lee could have easily dragged the book along, Jordan has a knack for writing authentic teen voices that truly show Middie's internal struggle as she grapples with her attraction to Lee, and her realization that her once concrete trajectory is no longer necessary. She's especially adept at showing the age-old teenaged struggle to understand that just because there's a certain way, it's not necessarily the right way, and readers will appreciate Middie's journey to that realization.
Outside of Middie's core journey, Jordan does a fine job of creating secondary characters that are strong and memorable. I could absolutely understand Nate's attractiveness, as well as just why Middie would initially find Lee so infuriating.
Bottom line: this is a gorgeous story about coming to terms with yourself, and learning to find your own path. Highly recommend, full stop.