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June 20, 2022

Review in Haiku: Falling Boy

By Katrina Stonoff

Crippled after fall,
Joseph fights rumors that he
is super hero.

Falling Boy, by Alison McGhee, has the dubious distinction of being the second book I put down unfinished since implementing the 50-page rule.

Oh, I expected to love it. I thought McGhee's Shadow Baby was one of the best 21st Century American novels.

And there are sparks of brilliance in Falling Boy: the 9-year-old girl who clicks a mechanical pencil compulsively, for instance.

Falling Boy, the main character, is a young man confined to a wheelchair after a fall leaves him a paraplegic. Enzo, the girl with the clickster, believes he is a superhero who can fly, though he denies it.

Fabulous, well developed characters. Exquisite, lyrical writing.

Too bad nothing happens.

Falling Boy is coming-of-age literature for teens. As such, it's less than 200 pages long. I stopped reading about a third of the way through the book, and nothing had happened. Literally. The characters sat in a bakery/coffeehouse and talked.

"Admit you're a superhero," Enzo would say. "I'm not a superhero," Joseph (Falling Boy) would answer, and Enzo would throw a fit. Next day? Lather, rinse and repeat. Oh, and he rode his chair around a lake once too, and they had their conversation there instead of at the bakery.

Another thing that bothered me. Characters were often called by nicknames (the Beer Guy, the Beekeeper Guy, etc.) and it took me several chapters to figure out who was whom. And then I had to go back and reread Chapter 1.

Anyone who's read Russian literature (Anne Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment) is familiar with this problem. But in Russian literature, the multiple names are reflective of the culture. I'm sure McGhee had a reason for using numerous nicknames, but not discovering it left me slightly annoyed.

Finally, the book has a very odd physical design. It's a paperback, but the softcover is folded in, so there are flaps like you might have with a jacket. This is petty, I know, but it made the book difficult to hold. I do realize the author has no control over this sort of thing, but it was one more factor that made the book easy to put down.

Overall, though McGhee's writing is as lovely as ever, the pacing was just too slow for this 21st century reader.

McGhee's batting average to date? One home run that blew the ball out of the park -- heck, out of the county! And two strikes.

I have one more McGhee book on my To Be Read shelf: Rainlight, which like Shadow Baby won the Minnesota Book Award. If this one disappoints me as well, I'll just accept Shadow Baby as an exquisite fluke and admit I'm simply not McGhee's target audience.

Article © Katrina Stonoff. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-05-12
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