Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review of Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell

After Isabelle, a slightly odd loner of a girl, falls through a closet into another world, she and her new friend Hen meet a nice old lady in the woods named Grete. Grete teaches the girls about the properties of herbs while Isabelle's sprained ankle heals - but then the girls discover that Grete is apparently the child-killing witch of whom every villager for miles around is terrified.
Grete, though a bit magical, is actually just a woman with a tragic past and an extensive knowledge of herbal lore. Although Hen can't quite shake the idea that there is no smoke without fire, Isabelle finds it ridiculous that the children in five nearby villages have been galloping about in mindless and pointless fear for so many years. She is determined to get them to understand the truth - that there is no witch. Isabelle has a stake in the matter, too, since she has rather a strong connection to Grete herself.
This is a curious hybrid of a fantasy. It's part modern-girl-visits-fairytale-world, a la the Narnia books or Alice in Wonderland, and it's part a rustic witch-and-woods fairytale. The plot and magical happenings are quite humble and old-fashioned, with some herbal lore, a magical book, and a bit of low-grade mind reading, and yet the tone is quite modern, with the narrator addressing the reader directly in breezy, colloquial language. Here's an example:
"Here's the deal: One day a beautiful, perfect baby is born, and his mom and dad make a huge fuss, take a gazillion pictures on their cell phones and post them to their website,, and generally behave like they're the only people in the world who ever had a cute kid. Big mistake. There are fairies flitting all around your average maternity ward just waiting for that kind of hubris."

Isabelle seems like a young, unusual, and very lonely girl, and the jacket art, with those red boots (which are described as being woman's witchy-looking red lace-up boots but which look like a little kid's rainboots on the cover), makes this seem the perfect book for an 8-year-old. And while many 8-year-olds will love it, there is that knowing tone to the narration that will be best appreciated by, say, an 11-year-old. Oh, and there's Grete's tragic past, not to mention a whole camp of very sick children plus an accidental but serious poisoning. It's light, fairy-tale fun, but with a slight edge to it. The ending is odd, sad, and (for me anyway) hugely anticlimactic, but perhaps fitting for this kind of quirky tale.
I liked this fantasy for its quiet refusal to fit into a particular niche and for Dowell's lively writing and unusual perspective. Ages 8 to 12.

1 comment:

  1. I was very unsure about the first half of this, but liked the second half lots...but Becky and Kate Coombs liked the first part better!

    Did you have a favorite?