How We Fall by Kate Brauning
How We Fall is a very different kind of book than any other book I’ve read. It’s extremely unique, super fast-paced and interesting, and I love that it took such huge risks that you don’t often see in YA fiction. Or any kind of fiction, for that matter.
First of all…we have a forbidden love story. And it’s very forbidden. Jackie is in love with her first cousin, Marcus! Which, of course, I immediately adored. I’ve always been a fan of stories that break the mold of “normal” romance — like student-teacher relationships or polygamy, etc. — so I was definitely sucked into the book because of this risky plot choice. But I do feel like I wasn’t as happy with How We Fall as I could’ve been. There were quite a few things that I wished could’ve been different.
When we first enter the story, Jackie and Marcus have already been in a more-than-friends relationship for years. Because we don’t get to see them fall in love and actually start their relationship (which is something that I probably would’ve been even more interested in — I mean, seriously…how does a relationship like that begin?), I never really got a sense of why they were together in the first place, beyond them just finding each other attractive, I guess. More than anything, it seemed like they both just sort of fell into this relationship because the other was there. They often talked about how “in love” with each other they were, but I just didn’t see it. Their romance never came alive or had tons of chemistry; I didn’t really believe it.
I also felt like the whole plot of this book was just…really strange. I’m not sure that I’ve ever encountered a story that was 70% romance and 30% thriller. It was so weird. It was like the author didn’t want the book to be 100% romance, so she decided to add in this other not-that-important side-plot to keep things interesting. But the story already has so much going for it with the whole OMG-they’re-first-cousins thing, that it really doesn’t need the extra distraction of a mystery.
I did feel like the resolution of the thriller part of plot was done really well, though. I didn’t see any of it coming at all, and I was very much on the edge of my seat about the whole thing. But the mystery didn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the story. Instead, it was distracting and sometimes confusing. And I never felt like Jackie’s emotions about Ellie were real. She spent so much time thinking about Marcus that there was barely any time for her to miss Ellie. And I didn’t really care about her either! We don’t ever even meet Ellie, and since Jackie rarely brings her up, there wasn’t really a reason for me to be that interested in her. So, even though the ending of the thriller plotline was done well, I wish that the author had just made this book all romance instead. I think I would’ve enjoyed the story more and it would’ve made the whole thing a lot less awkward and choppy.
My last problem with How We Fall was that I absolutely hated the ending. In general, I’m actually a fan of open endings…when they’re done well, and for the right reasons. But this book having an open ending just make me want to punch things. First of all, the ending comes right before a specific conversation that the reader has literally been waiting to happen for THE ENTIRE BOOK. It was incredibly frustrating to finally get to that point…only for it to just end before it happens. This conversation should’ve been the climax of the book, instead of having the climax be all about the thriller (especially since, like I said, the thriller is only about 30% of the story. Why have your book’s climax be only about the side-plot? It doesn’t make sense), but that’s just not how it all went down. Secondly, one of my biggest pet peeves is when authors have an open ending and then, in the story, basically break the fourth wall using one of the characters and explain outright to the reader that there’s going to be an open ending and why it’s happening (probably including some philosophical bullshit about how “real life” doesn’t end with the closing of a book or the credits of a movie, so why does it matter where the story ends?). UGH. I hate it. The characters do sort of explain how they think the conversation would go…but I don’t think that that makes up for not including the scene itself. To me, that was what the whole book was building up to. And to just have it end before we can get to that point? It doesn’t make sense and it’s actually kind of mean. I’m still super disappointed that I never got the chance to see how that part of the story would happen.
I did ultimately like this book quite a bit, but it was really hard not to notice all of the things about it that I wanted to change. Obviously, though, the story has so much potential. If it had been more about the romance between Jackie and Marcus, and the book had started with the early stages of their relationship, I think that it would’ve been a huge hit for me. But I’m just so happy that a book like this even exists right now. A YA romance about first cousins? It’s so risky, and totally different from other YA romances out there. And if this is what this author’s debut is about? I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!