“It starts with an itch you just can’t shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you’ll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in.
And then you’re dead.
When sixteen-year-old Kaelyn lets her best friend leave for school without saying goodbye, she never dreams that she might not see him again. Then a strange virus begins to sweep through her small island community, infecting young and old alike. As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island: no one can leave, and no one can come back.
Cut off from the world, the remaining islanders must fend for themselves. Supplies are dwindling, fatalities rising, and panic is turning into violence. With no cure in sight, Kaelyn knows their only hope of survival is to band together. Desperate to save her home, she joins forces with a former rival and opens her heart to a boy she once feared.
But as the virus robs her of friends and family, Kaelyn realizes her efforts may be in vain. How can she fight an enemy that’s too small to see?”
Placing this story in a very small community had the interesting effect of intensifying the action. It turns it into a true microcosm of what the entire world might be like under these conditions, but it doesn’t have the backdrop of huge sweeping disaster to contrast it with. Instead, the isolation keeps the reader’s attention focused in a different way than most other novels, and it also makes what happens all the more chilling. The author also touches on many of the elements that you’d expect in a disaster story—hoarding food stores, lack of medicine, houses with bodies inside—so that you don’t need the epic proportions of a typical book to get the feel for how horrible things are.
Even in the midst of all of this death, the author shows you some glimmers of hope. While there are certainly a few troublemakers in the novel, most of the island’s inhabitants band together to take care of each other. The best part is that it’s not in the fatalistic way that you see in many apocalyptic stories, where there’s safety in numbers and cooperation is a matter of necessity; rather, these characters help each other out of kindness and out of a real sense of community. This may be a novel with disease and death, but there is much that is uplifting as well.
I found that I really liked Kaelyn. She has a strong narrative voice, and although she’s young and often scared, her resilience shows a quiet strength of character. The author makes a wise choice in having the tale told as a series of journal entries to an absent friend. It not only allows her to believably set up her own backstory and give us information on herself, but it also lets readers into her thoughts in a raw and immediate fashion.
Of course, there is also the almost obligatory love story that nearly all teen novels have these days, but I think it makes sense in terms of the context. Kaelyn is in a situation where friends and family are falling ill around her, and it’s natural to want human contact in the face of these events. It’s occasionally just a bit clunky, but like I said, I can forgive it in light of how it fits into the story.
The novel is very effective in charting the progress of a rampaging disease. And I’ll admit that after finishing it, I felt a little paranoid about people around me who might be sneezing and coughing a lot. This is not a useful emotion to feel in the midst of allergy season, but it does illustrate the power of this comparatively lesser-known teen novel. The Way We Fall doesn’t have the non-stop action of some of its contemporaries, but instead it quietly and insidiously walks you through a disaster that claims people one by one without mercy. I’ll definitely be watching for the next in this series.
This review was originally posted on March 27, 2012.
This book was a personal purchase.
(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)