Review: Solitary

Solitary: Escape From Furnace 2 by Alexander Gordon Smith. Sequel to Lockdown. Farrar Straus Giroux. 2010.

The Plot: At the end of Lockdown, Alex and his friends escaped the underground prison, Furnace, by blowing up a wall and throwing themselves into an underground river.

Alex knew it wouldn’t be easy to escape Furnace. What he didn’t realize was how many dark, bloody secrets Furnace hid, it its underground cells and laboratories. He didn’t realize there could be something worse than recapture.

The Good: Just like Lockdown, the first book in this five-book series, the action is nonstop and breathless. Yes, I think you need to read these books in order. In all honesty, I could easily see these five volumes being printed up in one volume, it’s that type of story. For those who haven’t read Lockdown, Smith provides enough detail to quickly get the reader caught up on what is going on: Furnace is a horrible prison, Alex and his friends have escaped, prisoners are the subjects of terrible surgeries and experiments that turn them into monstrous creatures, “rats,” “dogs, “wheezers,” “blacksuits,” whose only purpose is to cruelly control the prison population. Got it? Good. Actually, not very good for those who have to live it.

Solitary is full of action. As the title implies, Alex is ultimately caught and thrown into the “hole,” solitary confinement. Smith can even make solitary confinement action packed. Alex is not the sort of person to sit quietly and contemplate his lot in life. He’s someone who acts rather than reflects. Even when he is forced to, well, think about what he’s done and why he ended up in a place like Furnace, those dreams and memories aren’t quiet and low-key.

Oh, Alex. As you may remember, Alex was a criminal, just not a murderer. He was framed for the crime that brought him to Furnace. One thing that is admirable about him is that he does not deny his actions and his past: “I’m not a good person. . . . I stole from the people I loved, and took the things that meant the most to them.” Even as Alex owns his past and his actions, there is sympathy for him. Furnace is a hell that no one deserves. Here in this immoral place, Alex faces hard moral choices and makes the “right” decisions, or, rather, the least “wrong” one. He’s not perfect, but as his actions show, he isn’t as bad as he thinks.

Given the harsh subject of the book (teens are imprisoned and turned into monsters), it’s a bit odd for me to say this is a fun series but it is. First, it’s never overly gory; there is just enough detail shared to know what’s going on, to know what is being done to the boys, to understand their hardships, without it being over the top. Second, whatever the boys did to get sent to Furnace, what’s being done to them is so much worse that they are  heroes you can cheer. The tight bonds they form with each other add to it; as I mentioned in my review of the first book, Alex isn’t afraid of his emotions. He isn’t afraid to be afraid; he isn’t afraid to cry. He just doesn’t let those emotions get in the way of his goal: Escape From Furnace.

All five volumes are already available in the UK. If you do not like spoilers, do not look this series up on the Internet! Do not even look at the titles for the next volumes


Fab Films: Policies and Procedures

The start of the Fab Films Policies and Procedures:

Membership: 9, including Chair, plus an administrative assistant, if requested by the chair, and an editor from the Audio-Visual Section of Booklist to serve as consultant.

Qualifications: YALSA members who have experience selecting and evaluating films for a young adult audience and who must be able to attend both the Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference of ALA.

Term of Office: 2 years, commencing February 1 and ending Jan. 31 two years later.

Function: To annually select films especially significant to young adults from those currently available for purchase; to annually prepare one annotated list based on a chosen theme of at least ten and no more than twenty-five recommended titles.

So, I’ll be on this for the next two years! The chosen theme for this year is Survival; anyone can nominate a film for consideration. (More on this in another post). The film has to be “especially significant,” and there has to be a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 25.

Next week: Philosophy and Purpose

Review: The Girls of No Return

The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin. Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Lida, sixteen, has been sent by her father and stepmother to the Alice Marshall School in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. Alice Marshall isn’t a school that girls test into; at least, not with school grades and entrance exams. It’s a school that girls are sent to: girls who have done something, a Thing that is more misdemeanor than felony.

Lida is silent about her Thing, both to the reader and to the other girls at Alice Marshall. Quiet, more lonely than shy, she keeps to herself, trying to avoid her cabin mates, especially the volatile Boone. Then, Gia comes to Alice Marshall. There is something about Gia, and all Lida knows is that she wants to be Gia’s friend. To be more than Gia’s friend: to be important to her. No matter what the cost.

The Good: Different story threads are woven through The Girls of No Return. There is Lida and her Thing, the Thing she did to warrant being sent away to an isolated wilderness school. Why is Lida like she is, so shut off from others? What could she have possibly done?

There is the story of love and friendship between teenage girls, with emotions heightened because of their isolation. For Lida, this is doubly true because while at Alice Marshall she is physically isolated from the world, just like the other girls, Lida has always been emotionally isolated. The small world of Alice Marshall ironically offers Lida an opportunity to develop real connections and real friendships. Or are they real? The girls are here for many different reasons; while what Lida needs is friendship, or, rather, to be chosen, to be wanted, to be someone’s “best,” that is not what other girls want or need or offer. Some do offer friendship; others, honesty, no matter how blunt or brutal; and some people’s needs can only be met by using or hurting others.

The Girls of No Return is told with flashbacks, with the Lida now (roughly two years after the events at Alice Marshall) telling the story that happened then. So, the book begins with an “Epilogue,” and that epilogue is sprinkled throughout the book, with the final chapter named “Prologue.” It is the Epilogue to the events that happened at Alice Marshall, and a prologue to the rest of Lida’s life. The Epilogue tells the reader, from the start, that Lida has survived; as the novel continues, and that Epilogue continues, the reader not only begins to discover what happened at Alice Marshall but also that the Lida in the present is healthy, has friends, yet is haunted by what that happened. What is it? The suspense builds as the dynamics between the wounded Lida, edgy Boone and ethereal Gia are gradually revealed.

Lida is a tough person to like. She’s built up a lot of walls, but one gets glimpses of her humor and intelligence. Because Lida is telling the story, not every reader will realize that Lida’s isolation is partly of her own making. A quick disclosure: reading this as an adult, I began with a greater sympathy to Lida’s parents than Lida herself had.  Then, when Lida’s “Thing” is shared, I didn’t see how her parents thought that Alice Marshall was the answer. What do I know, though, because in many ways, Alice Marshall was what Lida needed.

The Girls of No Return is a story of forgiveness; of not letting the past control the future; and the decisions and choices we make, both in actions taken and not taken.

Guest Post at the Hub

Last week, I was  a guest blogger at YALSA’s The Hub.

My post: One Book, Many Lists.

Here’s the opening of that post: “I’m fascinated by list crossover. The ones I usually look for are the ones that are on both the YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults (“both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens”) and YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (“titles aimed at encouraging reading among teens who dislike to read or whatever reason”). Good quality literature, appealing, and encouraging reading? Awesome!”

Please, go read it and let me know what you think!

Changes to the YALSA Website

Some changes are afoot at the YALSA website, particularly, who can access certain information and how. It looks like it’s a work in progress.

At the moment, if you go to the YALSA website, and click on the menu item Book Awards and Booklists, instead of getting any information about the awards and lists, there is a log on screen. YALSA members can sign in and view content; non-YALSA members are taken to a form to fill out before getting to the content.

Abby the Librarian has posted about the whys and wherefores of the changes. Abby raises a bunch of questions and issues, from how this change was announced by YALSA to the reasons for it. I don’t want to duplicate what she says, so, yes, go over and read the conversation and comments. Abby is a strong champion of involvement in professional associations like ALA and YALSA.

Kelly at Stacked also blogged about this recent change. Like Abby, Kelly has a bunch of questions and observations. Kelly (like Abby and myself) are all YALSA members, so, like us, Kelly is approaching this from the point of view a member but with a different perspective from Abby. Please click through to her post, about how and why and what these changes mean. For example, if anyone can nominate a book for an award, but now they need to fill out a form to get to that page, will there be less field nominations? As with Abby’s post, an interesting conversation is taking place in the comments, so read the post and comments.

I just want to add that I think it’s important to be aware of what happens with our organization. What content should or should not be members-only has been informally in discussions as long as I can recall. In the comments at Abby’s post, Jen Rothschild(Biblio File blog) recalls, “you had to be a YALSA member to get the annotated lists, but you didn’t in order to get just the titles and going back to that is something I could support.” I recall that, also; and it’s how I had initially interpreted the October 2011 Fall Executive Committee Meeting.

According to YALSA’s Tweets (here and here) (as well as a YALSA-BK email, but I don’t like quoting a listserv email, but the listserv archive is here so you can find it), a technology issue is causing the current situation (needing to log in or fill out a form to see the existence of YALSA awards/lists, as well as all criteria, and the current lists and list archive) and the intent is for the lists (current and archive) to be members only or fill out a form. (Disclosure: I haven’t directly followed up with YALSA about this, because the tweets and YALSA-BK email seemed pretty clear to me; and I’m writing this up as an informal blog post, not an article).

Right now, Abby and Kelly are making valuable observations, but it’s a bit hard to know the long-term impact of what information is or isn’t “members/form” only because the current situation (total block) appears to be a temporary technology issue that is getting sorted. Of course, every day that gets worked out is a day that someone goes to discover what awards and lists YALSA has and encounters a barrier. Is filling out a form that big a deal? That’s an individual decision: for some people, yes, it’s a barrier. Others may say, “no big deal.”

So, just out of curiosity:

Did you notice the change? Right now, it’s possible to access the information if you go to it directly (i.e., use a search engine to search “yalsa best fiction for young adults 2012”) but that work around only works if you are already aware of the list’s name. Also, I suspect that it’s temporary and when the technology issues get sorted it won’t be possible. It makes me wonder — once that gets locked down, how will that affect search bots and search results? Could the YALSA page fall from the number 1 return for that search to further down the list?

Does it matter to you?

What types of content do you think should or should not be members only?

How big a deal is filling out that form? Does your answer change based on how often that form needs to be filled out by an individual?

Edited to add: From the YALSA blog, Changes to YALSA’s Website explaining what has happened. Rather than cut and paste, please click through to read the whole post. What do you think? Is something free if you have to supply an email to access it? How do you then expect your email to be used? Do these changes promote the awards and lists?

Edited to add: The Venn Librarian talks about this in Membership Has Its Privileges. Some good food for thought about what encourages membership.


Frankenstein chapter by chapter reading, continued. Confused? Read my introduction post; chapters I to III; chapters IV to VII; chapters I to IV.

Chapter V

Wait, there is something new! Someone new! A pretty woman is visiting! An Arabian named Safie! This was totally not in the movies! Or if it was I don’t remember!

For some reason, this family is teaching the Arabian their language, including how to read, write, and spell, so, of course, the creature learns, also.

Huh. Imagine what this means for education! Forget classrooms. Just put the student in the room next door, not even able to sit up straight, with just a chink the size of an eye, and you, too, can learn how to read, write, and speak fluent French. It’s the Frankenstein Charter School!

Why these random poor people in a cottage are teaching Safie I have no idea. But how lucky for our creature!

Also, the creature is naturally drawn to the good: “I admired virtue and good feelings, and loved the gentle manners and amiable qualities in my cottagers.”

“MY” cottagers? Obsessive stalker, I’m telling you.

Chapter VI

Oh, good, we learn more about the cottagers. The old man is De Lacey, and they used to live in France and they used to be rich and….


Of course, one couldn’t have real cottagers be of such gentle manners and good qualities. Of course, they aren’t real farmers, or real people of the lower orders. It’s almost like, “hey, for these people to be good,  of course they used to be a higher class.”

Back to the backstory. So, back when they were rich, and in France, they had a friend who was a Mahometan, a Turkish merchant. This Mahometan had married a Christian woman and had a daughter, Safie. The French persecuted the Turk because he wasn’t French and wasn’t Christian, but the DeLaceys helped him, in return for Safie marrying Felix, but Felix is a good guy who totally wouldn’t make her do that, but it’s OK because they fall in love anyway. And then there is soap opera-ish double dealings and double crossings and betrayal and lost fortunes and running away, and long story short, the DeLaceys lost everything and have to live in this cottage. Safie just escaped her mean father to reunite with her true love Felix. Everyone is very refined, not like those other poor people. Oh, you good, noble, selfless, really rich people!

Well, at least this explains who the hell Safie is and why this group of cottagers is helping her. It wasn’t just another random coincidence. I’m not sure the point of this tale: true love (Felix and Agatha) triumphs? Prejudice (against the Turk, the Turk against Felix) is bad?

Chapter VII

Frankenstein Charter School continues, with the creature’s mad genius skills. He’s now reading three books he just happened upon: Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werther. No silly ABCs or baby books for him!

The creature begins to think, “who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?” Meanwhile, I begin to think, imagine if Frankenstein hadn’t run away from him (not once, but twice) but instead taught him. Because if this is self-taught, wow, imagine the lost potential!

While the creature has acquired other clothes, he still has the ones he took from Victor that first night. And, guess what is in the pocket of Victor’s coat? Guess! Guess! Guess!

No, not a ring.

A diary. Victor’s diary of the months leading up to the creation. Yes, Victor had time to run away, write “I hate my monster, he’s ugly,” put it in his jacket pocket, then fall asleep.

Remember how I said the creature was being all creepy about “my” cottagers? Well, he’s at it again. He’s all “when they should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues, they would compassionate me, and overlook my personal deformity.” He’s a total stalker fan, who knows every little detail about their lives and becomes convinced they are his BFFs even though they don’t even know he exists. I’m wondering if this was based on any stalker fans of Byron and Shelley (cough Claire Claremont cough). Much as I like the creature’s intellect, and what he’s accomplished, I’m sorry, this “they will be my friends” is wrong, wrong, wrong.  (You don’t know who Claire is? I’m afraid if I link to more information, you’ll spend all your time reading about her and never come back.)

Where does the creature go to the bathroom?

How can he, at 8 feet, live next door to them for years and nobody know?

Did I mention the father, the old man, was blind? So the creature’s not-awful but still really stupid plan is to approach the blind guy first, because he won’t run away screaming.

At first, all works according to plan because blind guy doesn’t run away screaming. The two have a nice chat, until Felix, Agatha, and Safie come home. Guess what?

Do they say, “hey, you, stay and be a member of our family!”

No. They freak out, Agatha faints, Safie runs away, and Felix rushes to protect his father. The monster runs away . . . . to the hovel next door. Unseen.

Chapter VIII

The DeLaceys are leaving forever; the creature learns this when he hears Felix talking to someone. Wouldn’t you love to know their side of this story?

Two choices: what does a sane person do in this situation? What does a stalker do?

The creature picks — the stalker solution. “Revenge and hatred filled my bosom.” So, of course, he destroys their garden and burns down their cottage, then heads to Geneva looking for Victor.

The more deeply did I feel the spirit of revenge enkindled in my heart.” Creature, you want revenge? Talk to Amanda-Emily over on Revenge. Now there is a girl who understands revenge.

His misfortunes continue: he saves a girl from drowning, and it’s taken to be an attack so he is shot at. Poor monster! Now he is also shot in the shoulder. Victor did a pretty good job at creating him, though, because no infection!

And now he’s in Geneva. So guess what? He sees  a “beautiful child” and decides the only logical thing to do is to kidnap the child to make the child be his friend.


Monster is crazy.

He’s thinking, “oh, this child is too young to run screaming from me in terror.” And in a way he’s right, as the child doesn’t run away. Except the monster is also wrong, in that the child does, in fact, scream in terror. Monster grabs child, and the child, being a child, “monster! ugly wretch!” and “let me go, or I will tell my papa.” Gotta  love kids. Child, if he doesn’t let you go, how will you tell your papa?

The creature’s reassuring response fails to reassure or to cause the boy to look beyond his ugly facade to see the smart, caring person behind it: “Boy, you will never see your father again; you must come with me.”

So the child responds: “Hideous monster! let me go; My papa is a Syndic –  he is M. Frankenstein – he would punish you. You dare not keep me.”

And with that, William – c’mon, you figured that out – seals his fate. He has given his last name.

Europe was small back then, what with all these coincidences of people meeting up randomly. We know this is William and is indeed Victor’s family, but what if this was not the same Frankenstein family?

So, the monster kills William, but tells us (or, rather, Victor) in a way that seems to avoid responsibility. He admits that “you shall be my first victim” but explains the killing as “I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet.” Still, it’s pretty clear it was intentional and the creature is happy.

Also, the monster takes the miniature. He later sees Justine walking through the forest and “I approached her unperceived, and placed the portrait securely in one of the folds of her dress.”

An eight foot ugly giant just reverse pickpocketed Justine and she never noticed. (The 1831 edition changes this to Justine being asleep in a barn when the creature does this.)

The monster recounts all this to Victor, ending with how lonely and unhappy he is and how only one thing will make him happy: Victor must create a female companion for him.

Chapter IX

Victor says no. Creating one wicked creature was bad enough, but two? No, no, no.

The creature is eloquent in his arguments: “I am malicious because I am miserable.” “If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.” “What I ask of you is reasonable.”

Victor is listening; and whether he is swayed by the arguments, or has other motivations, he begins to consider the request. “There was some justice in his argument.”

The creature continues, explaining the two would run away to South America and hide out and not bother anyone.

The creature truly believes love of a companion – loving and being loved – will solve all his problems.

Victor considers it all, and agrees. He will make a female creature.

Some More Awards

A few different finalist lists have been announced!

Edgar Awards

The Edgar Awards are presented by the Mystery Writers of America. The 2012 Edgar Award Nominees for Young Adult:

Shelter by Harlan Coben (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons). My review.

The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall (Random House Children’s Books – Knopf BFYR)

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Roaring Creek Press)

Kill You Last by Todd Strasser (Egmont USA)

The winner will be announced April 26, 2012.

Andre Norton Award

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have announced the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book:

 Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor (Viking Juvenile)

Chime, Franny Billingsley (Dial Books; Bloomsbury). My review.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Hodder & Stoughton). My review.

Everybody Sees the Ants, A.S. King (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

The Boy at the End of the World, Greg van Eekhout (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson (Greenwillow Books). My review.

Ultraviolet, R.J. Anderson (Orchard Books; Carolrhoda Lab)

The winner will be announced May 19th.

LA Times Book Prize

The LA Times Book Prizes announced the finalists for a number of categories, including Young Adult. The winner will be announced at the LA Book Festival of Books on April 20.

“Beauty Queens” by Libba Bray (Scholastic Press). My review.

“The Big Crunch” by Pete Hautman (Scholastic Press)

“A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd” by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press). My review.

“Life: An Exploded Diagram” by Mal Peet (Candlewick Press)

“The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press). My review.

TV Review: Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time. ABC, Sundays at 8 EST.

The Plot: Fairy tales are real; Fairy Tale Land is real. An evil curse attacked the land and the people, and they all now live in Storybrooke, Maine, unaware of their “real” lives. One person, young Henry — born in our world — is aware of the curse and seeks out help to try to break the curse.

The curse-breaker? His birth mother, Emma, born in the Fairy Tale world and sent to our world when the curse was made, unaware of her origins as the child of Snow White and Prince Charming, and not believing any of Henry’s stories about fairy tales.

The curse-maker? Snow White’s stepmother, the evil queen, who also happens to be Regina, the Mayor of Storybrooke and Henry’s adoptive mother.

The Good: I have to admit, I heard the premise of the show and was all, “really?” But it has some of my favorite actors in it (Ginnifer Godwin, Roberty Carlyle, Lana Parrilla) and show creaters Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis were writers on Lost, and Jane Espenson from the Whedonverse was also involved, so that’s some pretty darn good reasons to watch.

I’m really, really glad I did. It’s a ton of fun, yes — spotting the fairy tale characters (Red Riding Hood is now called Ruby, wears a lot of red, and works in the local diner) and the many references to the fairy tales. Disney is producing the show, which means it can use the familiar images and references from the Disney version of films. Before you get scared that it’s all Disneyfied — no. no. no. This Snow White is unlike any other you’ve seen before. If you haven’t been watching, I don’t want to give much away, but I’ll say this: when she and Prince Charming meet for the first time? She’s not some damsel in distress who needs saving.  The sparks fly, and at that moment I became a total Snow/Charming shipper.

Once Upon a Time is part romance (the Snow White/Prince Charming relationship, in both the Fairy Tale world and Storybrooke), part adventure (princes killing dragons, Emma battling the evil Mayor Regina), part mystery (what is the curse? who is aware of their other lives? how does all this work?) The last question — how does all this work — is almost headache inducing. All the Fairy Tale people look like they did in the fairy tale world: they haven’t aged a day. Henry explains to Emma that time stopped in Storybrooke. Time began again when Emma stepped into town. Because Emma was sent to our world just before the curse, she was never in Storybrooke and is now in her late 20s. Henry is about ten; so Henry has apparently been raised in a town where no one around him ages, except for Henry who was born here. What is great about Once Upon a Time is rather than these things being flaws, they are strengths, because these are not mistakes but rather secrets to be discovered.

In many ways, despite the Disney connection, Once Upon a Time goes back to the darker roots of fairy tales in both how the characters are portrayed in the fairy tale world and in the present day. People die; people are hurt; bad things happen. The back-story of Rumpelstiltskin / Mr. Gold (Carlyle) has been both sad and horrifying; he is both evil, one of the “bad” characters, yet also one whose origin story leaves one thinking, “oh, no.” Grimm Fairy Tale purists, as well as Disney purists, may not appreciate some of what goes on (“but that’s not what happened in the original story/film”), but I adore the way they play with the stories, weaving them together, making them fresh.

Fab Films

This year, I’m on the committee for the YALSA selection list, Fabulous Films for Young Adults (“Fab Films”).

What is Fab Films about? “Each year, the Fabulous Films for Young Adults committee selects a list of films around a theme that will appeal to young adults in a variety of library settings. Titles will be selected to appeal to young adults with varied tastes and interests.”

Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right. Are you sure? Yes, I’m sure; but you may be thinking of, and confusing it with, a different committee: “In 2007, the YALSA Board of Directors approved changes to the Selected DVD & Videos for Young Adults list, changing it to a thematic list called Fabulous Films for Young Adults, beginning with the 2009 lists. The Selected DVD & Videos lists named the best DVDs and videos released each year for young adults, through the 2008 list.”

2012”s list is Song and Dance. 2011 was Other Times / Other Places; 2010, Outside In: Rebellion vs Conformity; and 2009, Coming of Age Around the World. Lists can also be found from the Selected DVD & Video lists, from 1997 to 2008.

Stay tuned as I post about the policies and procedures for this committee!

Review: The Way We Fall

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe. Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. 2012. Review from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: It begins with a cough. A sneeze. An itch. A fever. Then, strange behaviour. Finally, death.

Of course, when it begins, when the first handful of people get sick on the island, sixteen year old Kaelyn doesn’t realize what is going on. Neither, really, does anyone else. Not until it’s too late: the island is quarantined, food and medicine are scarce, the doctors and nurses are trying to help people with dwindling supplies and few resources and no idea how to stop it, how to save people. People are dying, people are trapped, people are desperate.

Some people loot stores; others make sure neighbors get enough food. Kaelyn can do little but watch, as her friends and family fall sick.

The Good: The Way We Fall is a dystopian novel that is not set in some strange future, or alternate universe. It’s the here and now. A virus, a quarantine, panic, create a dystopian world in a typical, normal island community.

Kaelyn is a shy sixteen year old, more comfortable around animals than her fellow students. This year, she tells herself, this year she will be friendlier, she will make friends, she will say “hi” and not retreat to her books and nature studies. Of course, as luck would have it, this is the year when the virus hits. Kaelyn is both pushed and pulled. Pushed to go out into the world, to connect with a handful of others who are trying to help on an individual level. Gav, organizing food deliveries. Tessa, scavenging for medicine in empty summer homes. Pulled back into the safety of her home that is no longer safe. Her father, a microbiologist, trying to help contain the contagion. Her mother, struggling to keep some type of normalcy. Her brother Drew and Uncle Emmett, both thinking the only answer is to leave the island.

This is a look at the world while it collapses: the little moments. The day when it’s no longer safe to go to school, the day when there is no work to go to. The moment of realization that it’s no longer safe to walk the streets. Kaelyn has a seven year old niece, and she tries to help maintain some semblance of normalcy for the little girl. It’s a goal that gradually becomes impossible. It’s not just that people are getting sick. It’s also the quarantine, and the isolation, and the violence that takes place. It’s the looters and the gangs that spring up, once any other semblance of law and order disappears.

This is Kaelyn’s story, told in a series of journal like letters to a friend, Leo, who is away at school. Because Kaelyn is just sixteen, we see what she sees, knows what she knows. The bigger details of how her country and the world are handling the virus, what has really happened with the quarantine, and whether it’s escaped to the mainland aren’t told because Kaelyn doesn’t know. She, and apparently her parents, believe that the Internet and phone lines are down because of an accident; I suspect something darker. Kaelyn has some knowledge others don’t; her father is a microbiologist, working at an ocean research center. The politics of the island are vague, but that’s believable because Kaelyn doesn’t know the mayor or others in local government. The military and national initiatives are all screened either through what her father knows (and early on, it’s clear he’s not telling all he knows or suspects) or what the television shows.

Not everyone gets sick, but once someone does get sick, there is very little chance of recovery. Is a cough just a cough? An itch just an itch? I’m hesitant to say too much, but people die. Sometimes from getting sick, but also from the violence that erupts when fear takes over. I’ll say this: it makes me wonder, what would I do.

Kaelyn has returned to the island after living on the mainland for several years. It makes her both and insider and outsider, knowing things but also a stranger. Interestingly, Kaelyn’s father is the mainlander; her mother is the islander; and her father is white and her mother is black. She is the “weird girl whose mom and dad were different colors.” Leo, the friend who she writes to in her journal, is also an islander who doesn’t look like the others: he was adopted from Korea.

I didn’t realize until after I read The Way We Fall,  until I went to the website for the book, that this was first in a series. There is no cliffhanger ending; but it is also not a tidy ending. I look forward to the next book, but I’m also afraid of what the next book will bring. Is it about a community rebuilding? Or has the virus escaped beyond the island borders? Before you eye roll at oh, no, another trilogy, check out the author’s blog post explaining the genesis of the series. Crewe had an idea for a story, and it turns out it was a story that demanded three books to tell it.