This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 18.5.
Colleen Nelson tells us in the afterward to The Fall that “as a junior high teacher, [she] watched first-hand as the students at [her] school deal with the death of a classmate.” She brings her careful sense of observation to bear on the development of her story and characters.
Ben is an average teen-aged boy, self-identifying as “a smart kid who needs to apply himself” (8), but instead spending all his time at the skate park. He—like many other students in the school—is bullied by Cory, Taz, and Taz’s younger brother Luke. When he (out of fear) does a good turn for Luke, they begin to form a friendship which ultimately results in Ben begin drawn towards the group’s unsocial behaviours. While the boys are goofing off one night, Luke falls to his death.
While the strength of the novel lies in Nelson’s careful exploration of how this affects the three other boys, there seem to be problems of representation, in the early section of the novel especially. While my (who attends an inner-city high school) did find the book compelling, she felt that “no high school is like that, so blatant. And no one texts that way”). Ben’s decisions, too, seem uncharacteristically poor, given his claim to being “smart.” And his best friend, Tessa, is a shallow character, alternating ineffectively between being a voice of conscience—ignored—and an angry, self-righteous sounding board.
The novel does, however, have significant strengths: a central theme that is highly topical is the misinformation Cory spreads about Ben on Facebook following the accident. More than just his own sense of guilt and sorrow, Ben has to deal with escalating persecution from Cory and the entire school population. Given today’s media attention to such issues, teens will recognize the validity of Nelson’s representation here. Most poignant, however, are the different family dynamics that the boys have to deal with. Each comes from an either broken or dysfunctional family; two of them at least find a deeper healing though the grieving process. Their separate journeys towards rebuilding their lives reveal a sophisticated expression of emotional development that completely redeems the novel from its earlier divergence from authenticity.