Falling In is something a little different from the Frances O’Roark Dowell books I have read thus far. While I enjoyed reading it, and the mystery surrounding much of the story, there was a certain unease that plagued me throughout, a niggle of dissatisfaction. The Secret Language of Girls and its successor, The Kind of Friends We Used To Be were both straight forward yet fascinating explorations of friendship and its ability to withstand the traumas of growing up. Falling In has a darker edge to it, mimicking the feel of the fairy tales with which it plays.
Isabelle Bean is a misfit if ever there was one. The story opens with Isabelle becoming entirely focussed on a buzzing sound only she seems to hear. She follows it and finds herself in an alternate reality, a reality with rules of its own. As Isabelle learns about and explores this new environment, we meet an extraordinary cast of characters. We discover a society ruled by fear, children fending for themselves as they seek to escape an evil revenge-seeking witch. Isabelle, coming in from the outside, lacks the fear and goes off in search of said witch.
Dowell creates a Grimms brothers atmosphere of apprehension. This is no simple happily ever after tale. We wonder about the witch and if she will be found and defeated; we wonder if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
Underlying the fairy tale is a story of a mother and her daughter, the story of a daughter and her mother. What happens to a mother who loses her daughter? How does a girl learn to mother when she has grown up alone? Can the wounds ever heal? Going beyond the usual scope of the fairy tale, Dowell probes these questions. Dowell gives us something to chew on, if we are so inclined.
Recommended for children 9 to 12 years old, Falling In challenges some commonly held, fairy tale derived views on witches and legend with just enough of the spooky to thrill this age group.