by Alexandra Coutts
To be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux BYR
on September 17, 2013
Source: ARC distribution at BEA
Connect with the author: website : Twitter.
Summary (from Goodreads:) The world is living in the shadow of oncoming disaster. An asteroid is set to strike the earth in just one week’s time; catastrophe is unavoidable. The question isn’t how to save the world—the question is, what to do with the time that's left? Against this stark backdrop, three island teens wrestle with intertwining stories of love, friendship and family—all with the ultimate stakes at hand.
My take: "If the sky we look upon should ever tumble and fall, or the mountain should crumble to the sea…" I never thought of Stand By Me by Ben E. King as a pre-apocalyptic song, but now that I've read Tumble & Fall -- and realize that the book's title was inspired by the song -- I am a) unable to get the song out of my head and b) seeing that song in a whole new light and c) glad I read this book, as I'd been worried that it would be too depressing for me. Or too sci-fi. Or both.
Like the song, Tumble & Fall is a book about love and friendship and hope and faith. Yes, an asteroid is on target to strike and destroy the world. And yes, the best scientific minds in the world are probably on the case. But this book isn't about that. It's about three ordinary teens and what they are doing in those last few days before impact. Sienna has just been released from rehab, Zan is still mourning the death of her boyfriend Leo, and Caden is struggling with his alcoholic mom and wondering about his absentee dad.
As the asteroid speeds toward earth, these three characters have unfinished business to attend to, things that they need to take care of, or things that they get drawn into. Sienna's story had to do with love as she struggles with the news that her widowed dad wants to remarry and deals with her growing feelings for a guy. Zan's story has the most urgency: she discovers something about her dead boyfriend that she needs to investigate. And Caden's story is surreal-slash-wacky, involving parental abduction. And a hooker.
One of the things I liked about the book was that the characters' actions and choices felt very authentic. The concerns and preoccupations of these three teens are set against the conflicting agendas and expectations of their parents. The adults, understandably, want to spend time with their kids as the world comes to an end, even if this means forcibly -- I laughed out loud when one character got grounded. In contrast, the kids want to make the most out of every moment they have left, and often that means escaping their parents. I also liked the writing, which was evocative and lyrical without overdoing it.
The book's structure and narration took me a while to get used to. I've never been a fan of the technique of telling seemingly unconnected stories that converge at the end. The book also uses the third person present, an unusual choice for YA, and a tense that can come off like a voice-over. And yet, think these two narrative choices actually worked for this kind of story. The "interconnected narratives" technique shows the web of relationships that we all exist within, something we tend to realize only at momentous occasions, like funerals and weddings and meteors speeding toward us. Once I got used to the third person present, I decided that it gave the story a nice sense of immediacy. I wouldn't want to read many books in this tense, but it worked for me in a book about the end of the world.
With its multiple points of view, huge cast of named characters (I stopped counting when I hit forty) and distinctly philosophical bent, I'd call Tumble & Fall an intellectual story more than an emotional one. While I can't say I connected deeply to each of the POV characters, I did connect to the story as a whole.
I'll be interviewing Alexandra Coutts on the blog this Wednesday -- stop by and see what she has to say about meteors, bucket lists, and playwriting, and enter to win a finished copy of Tumble & Fall.