The Girl Who Fell by S. M. Parker
Published by Simon Pulse on March 1, 2016
Genres: young adult, contemporary romance, abuse
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I’d been looking forward to reading The Girl Who Fell for several reasons. One, it’s a story about partner abuse, which is not an oft-told story in YA contemporary (or maybe I just don’t read enough YA contemporary). Two, I plan on eventually writing a story featuring an abusive relationship, so I wanted to read other YA books on the subject in order to become more familiar with how abuse is portrayed in YA literature.
Three, that’s a very pretty cover.
So, that title? It’s actually talking about me. I’m the girl who was very excited for this book. I’m the girl who was really hoping to enjoy it (not to enjoy the abuse, obviously, but to enjoy a realistic portrayal of abuse and how complicated abusive relationships can be if the relationship is between you and someone you love). I’m the girl who fell for this book.
Or, at least, I’m the girl who fell for the idea of this book. I ended up disappointed with the outcome.
Books tackling difficult issues are just as hard to review as they are to write. When you write them, you want to capture the difficult situation as realistically as possible, not sensationalizing or romanticizing it in any way. Everything needs to be believable: character reactions/thought processes, certain circumstances, certain outcomes. When you haven’t been in whatever scenario you’re writing about, believability becomes very difficult to attain.
In issues involving the human psyche and human emotions (and many of them do), it’s very important for readers to be able to connect with the character(s) experiencing such difficult circumstances so we are invested in their struggle to overcome their circumstances, and we can root for them to emerge victorious (like in any plot, really). And, if we don’t connect to these characters, the readers need to at least be able to understand where these characters are coming from. In harder topics (like abuse or rape), it almost seems monstrous to not relate to the victim characters sometimes, because not relating to them seems equivalent to not sympathizing with them.
And that was my main problem with this book: I could not connect with Zephyr.
Because we’re seeing Zephyr and Alec’s relationship through her eyes, we need to understand why she falls for Alec, why she finds him so compelling. The books effectiveness depends both on its validation of her feelings for him, and on how realistic her train of thought is–both leading in to their relationship, and her thoughts while in it.
In short, Zephyr’s love for/dependence on Alec needs to be believable because it thus makes her experience believable. That’s what will make us root for her when she forgives Alec, when she continues to stay, when she continues to love him–despite the glaringly obvious fact to all those around her that doing these things is unhealthy and damaging to her.
And, to me, the progression of their relationship was not as realistic as it should have been. I can understand things being fast and intense quickly, and I can understand Alec making intimate statements very early on (ex. “Nobody compares to you,” “I’ve never felt this way before,” “You’re the love of my life,” etc.)–that’s trademark in an abusive relationship. But Zephyr got attached to him way too quickly. They met, he was charming, and all of the sudden she was deeply in love and nothing else mattered.
It’s not that Zephyr is stupid or mindless or not good at prioritizing life factors. (Quite the opposite, in fact; this book shows how even the smartest, most driven, most independent people can get caught in abuse relationships [something I thought the book did well]. Unfortunately, it can happen to anyone.) It’s that there’s not a lot of transition between “he’s kinda cute” and “he’s my one and only,” and the lack of transition means we miss the psychological aspect so crucial to understanding a victim’s reasons for staying in an abusive relationship (especially in Zephyr’s case, where she’s not financially dependent on him/doesn’t have children with him and where she still lives with her mother, so it’s not like she’ll have nowhere to go if he leaves her).
I don’t see why Zephyr stays with him. I don’t see why she loves him. He’s witty and can be charming (read: “storybook” romantic/kind of cheesy), but Alec never really materialized as a human being to me. And because I don’t see the why, most of the impact I was expecting this book to have is lost on me.
And that’s unfortunate.
This novel does well in showing Zephyr’s alienation from her friends and family, in showing the realities of an abusive relationship (physical, psychological [gas-lighting, invalidation, creating false dilemmas to force situations in the abuser’s favor, etc], and sexual). It shows, again, that abuse can happen to anybody and how ugly it is. But because I couldn’t understand why Zephyr was so in love with Alec, I had trouble understanding some of her decisions. Thus, this book didn’t hit me the way I hoped it would.
Don’t get me wrong. Like Speak, it’s a very important book with a very important message about a very important issue (although I much prefer the writing style here to Speak‘s). But, also like Speak, my appreciation for this novel is greater than my ability to connect with it. The message resonates, but not the story.