Author: Megan Crewe
Genre: Thriller, Survival/Apocalyptic (sort of), Young Adult
Publication date: January 2012
Hardcover: 304 Pages
It starts with an itch you just can’t shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you’ll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in.
And then you’re dead.
When a deadly virus begins to sweep through sixteen-year-old Kaelyn’s community, the government quarantines her island—no one can leave, and no one can come back.
Those still healthy must fight for dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of friends and family, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save the people she holds dearest.
Because how will she go on if there isn’t?
Megan Crewe crafts a powerful and gripping exploration of self-preservation, first love, and hope. Poignant and dizzying, this heart-wrenching story of one girl’s bravery and unbeatable spirit will leave readers fervently awaiting the next book in this standout new series.
Stand alone or series: Can be read as a stand alone novel, but is part of a planned trilogy
How did we get this book: eARCs from the Publisher via NetGalley
Why did we read this book: We both read and highly enjoyed Megan Crewe’s debut novel, the paranormal YA title Give up the Ghost. When we learned that the lovely Megan Crewe was writing an apocalyptic-style outbreak novel, naturally we were ecstatic.
Thea: I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started The Way We Fall – maybe something along the lines of an Outbreak meets The Storm of the Century mashup, or the more recent BBC show Survivors or blockbuster film Contagion. I certainly wasn’t expecting this much quieter, contained novel about a teenage girl struggling with her own sense of identity as a virus devastates her home. For the most part, I was very impressed with The Way We Fall – it’s a novel that doesn’t sensationalize and generally sticks within the realm of current science and scientific possibility. It’s also a book that doesn’t shy away from the gritty and real, and I respect that. My only slight qualm is that I do wish there was a little more to the story – that it wasn’t quite so self contained and restrained.
Ana: I have come to realise recently that apocalyptic-style stories are not really my cup of tea and I was uncertain about reading The Way We Fall. But I decided to give it a go because I was really impressed with Megan Crewe’s first novel Give Up the Ghost and had been waiting for another offering from this author ever since. And I am glad I gave The Way We Fall a chance as it turned out to be a brilliant read that suited me just fine. I may not be a fan of the premise but I loved the plot execution, the narrative style (being the huge fan of epistolary novels that I am) and the introspective, restrained feel to the story. I found it to be a mix of Science Fiction and Contemporary YA elements in a way that worked.
On the Plot:
Thea: It starts with a handful of fishermen, who have all the symptoms of the flu. A cough. A sneeze. An itch that won’t go away. Then comes the lowered inhibitions and loquaciousness, as the virus works its way into the populace by touch and respiration. Finally, the feverish paranoia and fear kicks in, right before the virus kills its host.
Kaelyn’s home on a small, isolated island in Canada is quickly overrun by the mysterious illness as it spreads from a few fisherman, to one of Kaelyn’s classmates, to the community at large. Soon, Kaelyn’s friends and neighbors, even her family, fall prey to the virulent strain, and quickly the island’s local hospital and resources are overwhelmed, with no cure or treatment in sight. Fearing a massive outbreak of the virus, the Canadian government imposes a strict quarantine of the island – no one gets in and no one comes out, with armed soldiers running regular patrols to contain the perimeter and shooting anyone that threatens the quarantine. As supplies dwindle and the outbreak ravages the community, Kaelyn must overcome her own fears and doubts as she fights to keep all those she loves safe.
As author Megan Crewe points out in her guest post today, outbreaks are very real things and there are terrifying viral outbreaks for which we have no cures, from the terror of the ebola virus to the various strains of influenza – swine, H1N1, Russian, Spanish, and so on (this is to say nothing of those viral or bacterial outbreaks for which humans have developed cures, like cholera or malaria, but poorer areas of the world cannot afford or gain access to them). In The Way We Fall, we see the progression of one such viral outbreak through the eyes of sixteen year old heroine Kaelyn. This is where the apocalyptic style features come in – as communication is cut off with the outside world (we never know if the virus has left the island and started to infect others in the major global hubs) and soldiers begin to kill anyone that protests or threatens to leave the island, as food becomes short and the bodies begin to pile up, we see the breakdown of society and the beginnings of violence, the formation of gangs and the start of looting. The devolvement of society on the island is immensely believable because it’s such an isolated location, as is the general progression of the virus through the community (although I’m not quite sure I buy the virus itself and the same hallucinogenic/emotional effects it has on every single one of the people that contract it).
An epistolary novel, narrated in journal entries written by Kaelyn and addressed to her former best friend, Leo, The Way We Fall is a frightening yet grounded look at the outbreak of an aggressive virus. Though I’m not the biggest fan of the journal entry technique for narration, when done well, it can be incredibly effective (see Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Last Survivors trilogy), as is the case with this book. Kaelyn’s story is reflective and honest as she bares her soul to a faceless friend, Leo, who might never read the journal. I love that there is this sense of uncertainty because of the narration, too – we never know the fate of some characters that have managed to leave the island, or news of the outside world. We only know what Kaelyn writes, and that kind of micro view is visceral and resonant.
The only criticism I have in regards to the writing and plotting is that I kept expecting something more to happen. While I loved the restrained nature of the novel, the limited information we have about the outside world, and the unflinching approach to mortality (and Megan Crewe is not afraid to kill characters which is always a winning point in my mind), the narrative is so mundane and restrained and introspective, I felt the book lacked that extra oomph that would transform it from a very good book to a truly excellent one.
Ana: I am a huge fan of epistolary novels and when done well, this form of narrative can really add to a story. To me, the greatest addition that a journal-type narrative that is supposed to be read by someone else (as opposed to a journal being written just for the writer) comes from not knowing exactly if the narrator is being completely truthful. As such, there is always an element of unreliability and I believe Megan Crewe explored that element really well and it was interesting to see Kaelyn opening up little by little to her friend Leo.
Plot-wise, The Way We Fall is a novel that works in two different levels: the personal and the public. On the one hand, we have the growing threat of the virus spreading in the island and the evolving paranoia, fear and panic that ensue. On the other hand we have Kaelyn and her attempt to be less introspective and to connect more with people and then eventually her attempt to deal with the epidemic and how it affects her own life. The two spheres – the personal and the public – are symbiotic and I think this is one of the reasons why I loved the book so much.
Furthermore, one of the reasons why I usually don’t enjoy reading apocalyptic-style stories is how I find it really hard to suspend disbelief at how easily and quickly civilisation degenerates in some of these stores, especially those set either in the immediate aftermath or as an event happens.
As such, it was a very wise choice to set this story in such a confined environment because it is easier to relate to and believe in the consequences of such an event in a smaller scale rather than a bigger one. It reminded me of Ashfall by Mike Mullin, another recent apocalyptic-style novel we read. When I read Ashfall, I found it really hard to be believe that civilisation in general would fall so hard and so fast in such a macrocosm whereas I find it easier to believe it happening in the microcosms of this novel. The slow paced development of the virus coupled with the very detailed recounting of Kaelyn’s daily life before it happened makes is all the more affecting when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.
On the Characters:
Ana: As I said, the dichotomy of the public and the personal is really well done and this is evidenced when it comes to the characters – from Kaelyn and her immediate family to her new friends. We see that difficulty when it comes to her father and how he has to be away at the hospital so much even when some members of his own family are in danger. How hard must it be to make such hard choices> What are the limits of one’s responsibility to others when such an event occurs? I can totally see how one can be frustrated by Kaelyn’s tendency to take everything upon herself but I thought that was not only completely in keeping with her character but also completely relatable on a very personal level. There were many frustrating choices she made which I can see myself making in a similar situation as well.
What stretched the believability factor for me and perhaps detracted from the novel is how knowledgeable these teenagers were. Although I respect and appreciate the willingness of the author to make her characters smart, it was hard for me to believe that such a small group of teenagers would feature one teenager who would know everything about viruses; another teenager that would know everything about plants; and yet another one who would know everything about organising rescue efforts. They are all far too capable for such a small sample of people, statistically speaking. Having said that, and going back to why I don’t usually like to read apocalyptic-style stories I feel certain criticisms like the above may not be so easily applicable because who can ever predict HOW people will behave in such dire straits?
A final word about diversity: there is a plethora of diverse characters and their diversity is incorporated and addressed in the novel really well. Kaelyn, for example is of mixed race and she has felt the ugly side of racism from time to time and so has Leo, originally from Korean and adopted by white parents. Kaelyn’s brother Drew is gay and has recently come out to his family and his relationship with his less-than-accepting father is fraught with tension. I hear that this might be the beginning of a series rather than a standalone novel and I would absolutely love to see these events from Drew’s point of view.
Thea: as far as character integrity is concerned, I do believe that Kaelyn is a distinct and believable character as she struggles with immense self-doubts. Even prior to the outbreak, Kaelyn is an outsider, having just moved back to the island with her family after a few years in Toronto, and this is reflected in her interactions with old friends and in her journal entries addressed to the estranged Leo. It’s very much like a contemporary YA novel that way, lots of emoting and perhaps less on the action. To that end, I was a tiny bit impatient with Kaelyn as from a purely personal taste perspective, the early journal entries are very much “Today I went to school and so-and-so was mean to me, what did I do, it is all my fault” and so on. This isn’t a bad thing, and Ms. Crewe does a phenomenal job of dealing with the inner turmoil facing this contemporary teen – it’s just not my particular cup o’ tea. As the virus progresses, Kaelyn’s tendency to view things completely in the context that everything is her fault, that everything wrong that happens to her family and/or friends is because of her failings makes perfect sense with her character…but it annoyed the bejeezus out of me. For a girl with no self-confidence, Kaelyn has a huge case of hero-burden/narcissism syndrome, and personally, this is made Kaelyn an incredibly frustrating character to read about. I should note this is just my own personal taste – the reason why Kaelyn was so frustrating is testament to how well she is written as a character.
I have to agree with Ana that things may have been a tad too convenient on the island in terms of cast and capabilities. Not only is Kaelyn’s father a skilled microbiologist (on a small remote island in Canada), but there’s also a girl who has an exceptional green thumb, and a boy that has taught himself how to fight (and has his own share of annoying hero-syndrome). In regards to diversity, I agree with Ana that it is awesome that this is such a diverse core cast of characters with Kaelyn being half black, half caucasian, brother Drew as the recently and the unseen Leo a Korean boy adopted by Canadian parents in what is ostensibly a very white and closed environment on the island.
As to the fact that this is the first book in a trilogy, I’m actually a little torn – while I do think it would be great to get a new perspective and to see what has happened to the outside world beyond the island’s quarantine (one of the characters went to New York, so I’m hoping the outbreak has spread…), I think this is a perfectly self contained book and would be fine to read and leave on its own.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: The Way We Fall is that sort of novel that becomes better with time: the more I think about it, the more I appreciate its nuances. Although I do agree with Thea that there is a certain lack of oomphness, I have to admit that it really didn’t detract from my reading experience. I ended up really loving this book.
Thea: I agree with Ana that this is a book that only gets better upon reflection, despite the lack of the oomph factor. It’s a memorable, resonant book, and one I wholeheartedly recommend.
It’s about six hours since you left the island. The way things have been, I know you wouldn’t have expected me to come to see you off, but I keep thinking about how you waved and waved from the dock five years ago, when I was leaving for Toronto.
While the ferry was carrying you to the mainland, I was on West Beach with Mackenzie and Rachel. Mackenzie had decided we should have one last summer swim before school starts tomorrow, but the breeze was so chilly, none of us ended up wanting to go in the water. So we just walked on the sand, talking and speculating about how junior year will go.
The summer vacationers have all left, so no one was on the beach except for us and a few families having a barbecue by the rocks. I could see the white shape of the ferry getting smaller as it crossed the strait, and the knot in my stomach got tighter and tighter.
Mackenzie started gushing about her “awesome” summer in L.A. and the hot nightspots she’d gotten into, and Rachel and I mostly just nodded in the right places, like usual. Not that I mind. At one point Mackenzie turned to me and said, “Because the big city clubs are the best, aren’t they, Kaelyn?” and all I could say was “Um, I guess,” because I never actually went clubbing in Toronto.
If she knew I spent most of my time there at the zoo or the vet clinic near our house, not shopping and partying, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have glommed on to me the second I moved back last spring. But I haven’t gone out of my way to correct her. It’s nice having people to hang out with like this, even if it’s sort of under false pretenses. I was so focused on getting by on my own in the city, I didn’t realize how much I missed being with friends.
And it was only today I realized how much I’ve missed you.
Read more from the excerpt HERE.
Thea: 7 – Very Good
Ana: 7 – Very Good
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