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.