Take The Fall seeks to solve the murder of Gretchen Meyer. Sonia Feldman finds herself running for her life after being attacked in the woods near her house while walking home from her best friend Gretchen Meyer's house. Frantic, out of breath and terrified, she stumbles into her Uncle's diner where her mother and her Aunt Dina are finishing up for the day. Soon Sheriff Woods and Deputy Amir Rashid are there questioning Sonia. Not long after Deputy Robson gets the call - Gretchen has been found dead.
Over the course of the next few weeks Sonia struggles to come to terms with her best friend's death while at the same time trying to figure out who killed her. Sonia lives in the town of Hidden Falls where she attends Hurlburt High School. Her best friends are Gretchen Meyer, Haley Jacobs and Aisha Wallace who have known each other since kindergarten. However, sometime in middle school Gretchen became much closer to Sonia; they often had sleepovers and took Sonia on family vacations. Gretchen is the daughter of Carlton Meyer, the wealthy owner of a tech company.
Gretchen's latest ex-boyfriend, Marcus Perez is brought in for questioning. Gretchen's car is missing and the police have found signs of a struggle at the falls. Marcus is released as he has an alibi. Sonia tells Sheriff Wood that she drove Gretchen home from Brianne Prashad's party at around 11 pm. During the party, Gretchen fought with her younger sister Kirsten but Sonia doesn't know what caused the fight. They left Kirsten drunk at the party. Sonia tells Wood that they did not talk during the short drive home, something Wood finds surprising considering the two girls are best friends. When Wood tells Sonia that Gretchen called her home at 11:04pm, Sonia tells him no call was made from the car. After parking the car, Sonia ran into Haley Jacobs walking her dog. She saw Gretchen go into her house and then she started through the park to her home.
On the following Monday, Sonia returns to school against the wishes of her mother. She wants to go back to school so she can begin forming a suspect list. She learns that Gretchen's parents surprised an intruder in her room before she was listed as missing and that Carlton Meyer is offering a fifty thousand dollar reward for any information leading to the arrest of the person who murdered Gretchen. Marcus shows up at Sonia's Uncle Noah's diner after school but is thrown out. He tells her that he wants to help her find whoever killed Gretchen because he believes the police are still trying to pin her murder on him. Sonia is conflicted over helping Marcus because she has Gretchen's SD card which shows Marcus furious and wishing she was dead. At school the next day, Marcus confronts Sonia begging her to hear him out, but he ends up getting into a fight with Kip, another Gretchen ex-boyfriend. The day does not end well for Sonia either as someone places a picture of her and Gretchen into her locker with Sonia's scratched out. She decides to confront Marcus over the picture but when she does he denies having anything to do with this. Instead Marcus works at trying to convince Sonia to help him search for Gretchen's killer so that he can clear his name. He admits that his alibi isn't any good because his grandmother was asleep when he arrived home but she lied to the sheriff. Sonia decides to work with Marcus, to compare their lists of potential suspects. But as Sonia talks to classmates she reveals just how manipulative Gretchen was and that any one of them could have been responsible. But she also reveals to Marcus the true identity of Gretchen's killer forcing Sonia to make the most important decision of her life.
Take The Fall is a murder mystery that opens with a punch. It seems that Sonia Feldman has been attacked by the same person who also murdered her best friend Gretchen Meyer. This is the assumption made at the beginning of the book by all the characters. A second assumption, that the ex-boyfriend, Marcus Perez whose parents are addicts is the killer is also made. However, close reading reveals that all is not as it seems. The biggest clue offered is the flawed timeline given by Sonia to Sheriff Wood who never seems to catch on. Sheriff Wood never seems to question Sonia much other than interviewing her the night of the murder and the next day. But the facts should make him at the very least curious and they don't. Sonia drops Gretchen off at her house, giving her friend the car keys and proceeds to walk through the park towards her home. In her account, Sonia is accosted at the bridge by someone but manages to escape out of the park. By her own admission she arrives at the diner only minutes after dropping Gretchen off, bruised and scratched. Gretchen's body is found shortly afterwards in the water beneath Hidden Falls. But according to Sonia's timeline there are twenty-five minutes unaccounted for. Their houses are on opposite sides of the park, not close enough to be seen without the leaves on the trees but likely not axtwenty-five minute walk.
With no clear suspect, Wood never turns his attention back to Sonia. When all the potential suspects can produce alibis, Wood never comes back to question Sonia who was the only person in the park at that time, who has evidence of being in some kind of struggle and who has no alibi. Added to this are several serious weaknesses in the story: Gretchen's body is never tested for DNA evidence (at least it's never brought up in the story) and there is no mention of an autopsy. Sonia who has been in some kind of altercation with an unknown person also never undergoes any forensic exam such testing for DNA on her arms and under her fingernails. In fact Sheriff Wood seems perpetually reluctant to undertake ANY forensic testing. It is Sonia who requests that he check the fingerprint on the mysterious postcard she's received in her locker. This lack of forensic evidence seriously hampers Wood's investigation but is successful in creating suspense and mystery in the story.
Sonia's "investigation" into her friend's death reveals that Gretchen Meyer was a controlling sociopath bent on wrecking the lives of all those around her. She's the stereotypical rich bad girl. As Sonia builds a list of possible suspects, the reality of Gretchen's relationships with those around her are exposed. While Sonia knew of Gretchen's cruelty to her younger sister Kirsten, she discovers that Gretchen's reach also extended to Marcus whom she was giving money to and that Gretchen destroyed all his artwork leading to him wishing Gretchen were dead. Eventually the true nature of Sonia and Gretchen's relationship is revealed. Sonia tells Marcus, "Whenever she was up to something, she made sure I
played a part...I was afraid of her, afraid what she might do to me. I
didn't want any part of it, but I went along with everything she did.
I"m no one to admire." Marcus realizes that Sonia's situation was worse than anyone else. "How long did it take her to get you right where she wanted you?...What would she have done if you said no to her? When was the last time you tried?" The extent of Gretchen's control over Sonia is only revealed when Sonia learns that the fake website they created for an assignment was made live on the internet, possibly jeopardizing Sonia's scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania. Gretchen's parents had offered to pay for Sonia's tuition if she attended Stanford with her. But attending Penn offered Sonia a chance to escape from Gretchen's control, one Gretchen was determined not to allow to happen. This sets the stage for the motive of the confrontation between the two girls.
Hainsworth certainly keeps her readers guessing; Gretchen's many enemies means there are numerous potential suspects who would have liked revenge and the use of Sonia as an unreliable narrator keeps the reader guessing as to what's really happened. For example Sonia frequently mentions how Kirsten is remarkably like Gretchen, casting suspicion towards Kirsten. Sonia's description of Kirsten notes this similarity. "Kirsten Myer, Gretchen's younger sister, walks down the steps towards me. She's a natural blonde, but I'd forgotten she experimented with dyeing her hair a couple of weeks ago. At the time, Gretchen was annoyed, remarking that she'd never match her own vibrant red, but it's startling - no, disturbing how much Kirsten looks like her now." Later on she notes, "I almost drop my phone. Kirsten stands next to me, holding a brown paper lunch bag. Her voice sounds so much like Gretchen's it's a minute before I'm breathing normally again."
Take The Fall has a romantic subplot between Marcus and Sonia. The reader has the understanding that the two would have had a relationship if it were not for Gretchen and her manipulation of Marcus. While Sonia believed that Marcus hated her she learns after Gretchen's murder that in fact he was attracted to her but had to pretend to dislike her so as to protect her from Gretchen.
Take The Fall is typical teen fare, full of teen drama and a few stereotypical high school teens including a manipulative, rich bad girl who could have been killed by an one of her classmates. What the novel could have used was a map outlining the location of Sonia and Gretchen's homes in relation to the park and Hidden Falls and an epilogue that gave readers a satisfying conclusion to the story. Overall though an interesting read for teens who like high school murder mysteries.
Take The Fall by Emily Hainsworth
New York: Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers 2016