The Upside of Falling by Alex Light

Review by Louise Brecht

HarperTeen, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 18 February 2020

281 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CDN, 978-0-06-291805-5

Ages 14+, Grades 9-12

Young Adult, Contemporary Romance, Mystery

I knew a lot about love. I knew there were two kinds: 1) real love and 2) fictional love. The real kind is what I thought my parents had, pre-divorce. The fictional kind was what I’d preferred since.

To studious Becca Hart, real love is a temporary and tragic phenomenon. At its end, husbands abandon wives and fathers walk out on their pre-teen daughters without explanation. Becca’a father left and never came back, though he still lives in their small town of Crestmont, Georgia. Books are her antidote. The eighteen-year-old bibliophile is just as committed to consuming copious quantities of romance novels and reliant on their happy endings as she is to avoiding relationships that will inevitably end in disaster. Now, if only her critics—including her still-single mother and her sanctimonious ex-bestie Jenny—would leave her alone, she could slide through her final year of high school and get on with life.

Jock Brett Wells wants the “perfect” kind of love his parents model…just not right now. The drop-dead gorgeous captain of the football team is too busy fine-tuning his game for college scouts, studying hard, and being Mr. Nice Guy to get caught up in romance. Lately, though, the wealthy father he’s patterned his life after has been pressuring him to play the social field and date more. Brett’s not interested—until he overhears cheerleader Jenny razzing Becca about her single status and heroically steps into the role of Becca’s fake boyfriend to end the rancour. It doesn’t take either of them long to decide that with a little effort, they should be able to turn the fiction into an easy out that will serve them both.

But love, real and fictional, is rife with conflict. Author Alex Light challenges both of her principal characters to examine old beliefs in light of new discoveries: about each other, the hard, hurtful truths Brett uncovers in his parents’ marriage, and the ones Becca finds in her father’s new life. Each of them is rendered through first-person perspective, which Light braids into a plot that draws tighter and tighter as their elders’ misdeeds threaten to blow the not-quite-so-fake couple’s world apart. The Upside of Falling is a smooth read that owes as much to its author’s balanced structure as it does to the tried and true formula for romance fiction.

Its readability, however, does not necessarily translate into memorability. I want to know that Becca and Brett are truly high school seniors with all the attendant hopes, desires, and angsts. Their alternating narrative voices are a trifle too similar for comfort. Both gloss over details; both are big on exposition. I am still curious about Becca’s mother, and why she left nursing. I want to know more about the Wells family and what they do (personally) to create the picture of perfection. Jenny’s reappearance at the peak of the action and the odd turn her character takes through the denouement definitely creates an unexpected stir of excitement. But it could also very well be that Light has fashioned Becca’s and Brett’s story after the very romances that have been her protagonist’s lifeline, and that the touches of realism I’m looking for will disturb the fairytale finesse of her fiction. I closed the book with a sigh and a smile.

Louise Brecht is a Creative Writing and English Literature student at the University of British Columbia. An avid reader and aspiring author, Louise has published works of non-fiction, fiction and poetry in nineteenquestions, Pearls, Collage, and Sweatink.

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