Young adult novels have been known to deal with some heavy issues, but Dee Avila’s Falling Behind really focuses on some big ones, including abuse (both physical and emotional) and rape. From reading the blurb, and then the first chapter, I must admit that I didn’t realise just how dark the book would get… until it did. It is a nice juxtaposition to how the same thing can happen in real life – things can get out of control, before the victim even realises how bad it has got.
The novel is told from two points of view. Titus watches what is happening to his friends from the outside, and is therefore only partially aware of the danger his friends are in, making for an interesting alternative perspective. Meanwhile, Reese is so busy worrying about the physical abuse her friend Candice is going through, that she doesn’t realise that she is actually going through another type of abuse herself.
The girls (Reese and Candice) are victims in the story, and both are suffering at the hands of their boyfriends, albeit in slightly different ways. Reese is constantly at Candice to break up with her boyfriend because he is hurting her, but Reese’s boyfriend is no better. For a while I struggled with reading from Reese’s point of view, because I really just wanted to give her a slap so she could stop being such a hypocrite! However, Reese grows throughout the novel, and when she stops being a passive victim, and blossoms into an active protagonist, what she goes through in the first half of the book makes her a much more likable, and understandable character.
Titus is interesting because he is the only main character in the novel who isn’t a victim or an abuser. He is able to show events from the point of view of someone who knows some of what is going on, but is completely at a loss for what to do about it. Both him and Reese eventually do what doesn’t happen enough in young adult novels – they turn to their parents for advice.
It is so often that parents are overlooked, out of the picture, or just ignored by young adult protagonists, that it was actually refreshing to read a novel with healthy parent-child relationships. I have to say that the “Moms” in Falling Behind did all blur into one for me (they could have done with a little more characterisation to make them stand out as different), but they are the kind of mothers that any teenager would want – loving, ready to offer advice but not too smothering.
Falling Behind also breaks the norm through an intriguing story telling technique. When a chapter is told from the point of view of Titus, snippets of the same chapter are told from the point of view of Reese. This could easily get boring, having to read the same scene again, but the author manages this well, by focussing on the differences in the point of view, and only sharing portions of the same scene. It does well to show the differences in the point of view of a victim and of someone watching from the outside.
The novel, like most self-published novels that I have read, could have done with a professional edit to clear up some tense issues and other minor errors, and it is my view that the blurb and cover doesn’t do the book justice (a perfect example of never judge a book by its cover!). However, overall I was impressed with, and surprised by both the quality and the depth of emotions evoked in this novel. It could so easily have become a preachy teenage warning story (and perhaps is in tiny parts), but instead Falling Behind is an emotional story of dealing with abuse and grief, and one that resonated with me far more than I expected.
TITLE: Falling Behind
AUTHOR: Dee Avila