Saturday, July 6, 2013

Falling For You by Lisa Schroeder

"All I want is to be wanted by someone. Just as I am.
That may be the only thing I've ever wanted."
This heart-rending novel tells the story of a girl caught between two abusers - a mean stepfather and an obsessed boyfriend.

Seventeen year old Rayanna Lynch tells what happened to her over the course of six months when she begins dating the new boy in town, Nathan Gray. Rae doesn't really want to date Nathan despite the fact that he's very cute, but she's pushed by her best friend, Alix, to do so. Nathan is Rae's first boyfriend, so she's unsure of how things are supposed to progress but it quickly becomes apparent to Rae that Nathan seems very obsessed over her and very self absorbed.

Meanwhile things at home aren't going too well either. Rae lives with her mother Joan and stepfather, Dean, a boorish, mean man who treats her little more than a slave. When Dean loses his job, he forces Rae to give him her paycheck from her job at Full Bloom, a florist shop. Rae is furious but she knows she can't refuse. Losing her paycheck means that she will no longer be able to add to her nest egg that she's been saving so that one day she will be able to leave Crestfield.

Nathan and Rae's relationship quickly escalates physically. When Nathan refuses to listen to Rae's requests to stop, she decides to end the relationship. Nathan becomes angry and disappears, causing both his family and Rae to worry. Nathan refuses to accept that Rae has broken off their relationship. His obsessiveness quickly escalates into stalking. Alix's boyfriend, Santiago, must repeatedly intervene.

With Nathan still attempting to restart their relationship, Rae begins to see her friendship with Leo Martin, a boy who works at his father's coffee shop, Mack's Bean Store, next to the florist shop in a different light. Leo is homeschooled and has a caring, gentle manner about him. They share a similar interest in film and books and Rae enjoys his company. Leo has a "down-to-earth quality" that makes Rae feel like she's known him all her life and makes him trustworthy. His presence offers Rae the only bit of respite in her slowing darkening, crumbling world.

Rae's home life becomes increasingly dismal as Dean who has been gambling gets in over his head. He becomes increasingly violent towards Rae and her mother, stealing Rae's money and taking her truck. Rae tries to convince her mother to leave, but her mother tells Rae they cannot because Dean has threatened to kill them if they do so.

Rae comes to realize that the people she works with. her boss, Nina, and Spencer, her co-worker are more like her family. She also includes Leo as part of that family. When a situation at Nina's shop turns ugly, Rae risks everything to save those who have been there for her all along.

Schroeder has written another novel that engages her readers throughout. The author has structured her novel in such a way that a sense of mystery and suspense are created from the very beginning. The novel works its way back in one month increments from six months to one month before the present and then focuses one day earlier and finally two months later. Before each of these sections is a page titled "the hospital" with a time stamp. The novel opens with "the hospital -- 4:05pm" indicating from the very beginning that something terrible has happened to Rae creating the hook that effectively draws readers into the novel. Each chapter contains pages of  Rae's poetry - her way to express the pain and anger she feels towards Dean and her mother and towards Nathan.

Rayanna Lynch is a strong protagonist doing the best she can in a very difficult circumstances. She realizes that she doesn't want the life her mother has and has set goals for herself.  Her determination to follow a different path from that of her mother is evident in how she deals with Nathan. Once she becomes aware of Nathan's problems, despite her deeply held desire to be loved and despite the pressure from friends to continue dating Nathan because they "are so cute together", Rae has the inner strength to leave the relationship.And of course this leads to the novel's lesson to young women to have the courage to leave an abusive relationship and to trust their instincts when something tells them that a situation is wrong for them.

Rae grows throughout the novel. Initially she is a person with a deep dark secret that she doesn't share with anyone, especially her best friends, Leo and Alix. Rae is humiliated and ashamed about her difficult home life. This is demonstrated by her submitting her poetry anonymously to the student newspaper. As the number of anonymous poems grows, Rae comes to realize that if people admitted to their troubles, they could help one another. When Rae finally takes the big step towards trusting Leo and shares her troubles with him she realizes that the poetry submissions also need to change.

Despite living  a home life profoundly lacking in love, Rae has held onto the wisdom her grandmother gave her, "Where light shines, darkness disappears." No matter how horribly her stepfather treats her or how inadequate her mother is in protecting her, Rae often responds with love. And it is that love, that leads her to (almost) make the ultimate sacrifice.

Another character who changes in the novel is Alix. At first I didn't like the way Alix disregarded Rae every time she suggested that there might be something wrong with Nathan. Rae's concerns about Nathan were never validated by Alix, something I found very annoying. When Nathan disappears, Alix does very little to comfort her friend or tell her that she is not to blame for Nathan's behaviour. However, once Alix becomes aware of Nathan's true nature, she is afraid for Rae and she encourages her to stand up to him.

As for Nathan, Schroeder leads her readers to believe that Rae and Nathan's relationship problems will dominate the novel. However, it is Rae's problems with her stepfather that lead to the climax of the novel and in this regard, I'm not sure the novel was aptly titled. Nevertheless, Nathan has just as many family problems as Rae, but he can't cope because he doesn't have a  supportive circle of friends. This leads Rae to try to help and encourage Nathan, rather than ostracize him.

I believe that Lisa Schroeder has written a book that many teenagers will be able to relate to. Teens who live in difficult circumstances, have a parent in an abusive relationship or themselves are involved in an abusive relationship will relate to this novel. With loving support from best friends and those who truly care, a new start can be made.

Overall, Falling For You is very well written, with a heart-wrenching climax and a satisfying resolution. There is a touch of true romance and a happy ending for a lovable heroine who deserves every bit of it!

Book Details:
Falling For You by Lisa Schroeder
New York: Simon Pulse 2013
355 pp.

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