Going into Falling for You, I knew I was in for an emotional ride. I'd glanced at enough reviews to know that Falling for You deals with an abusive relationship. What I didn't know was how much deeper this book is, how many wonderful ways that Schroeder's novel sets itself apart. Though this book is sad and deals with painful subjects honestly, Falling for You is ultimately a tale of hope and inspiration.
Poetry has never really been my thing, which is why I am glad I started with this Schroeder novel, written predominantly in prose. I'm starting to open up my mind to poetry, but I'm easing into it. There are a number of poems woven throughout the novel, in the form of submissions to the school's newspaper. I actually really love the poems, which are simple, beautiful and truthful, and fit Rae perfectly. My favorite poem is Cherish, which deals with comparing books to life and going for your happy ending. Her prose works really well too, and the poems add texture to the novel.
The story opens with foreshadowing. Rae is in the hospital, and the reader has no idea why. Month by month, the narration moves steadily forward towards some type of unknown danger. Schroeder makes good use of the device, luring the reader in, but not hitting the reader over the head with the foreshadowing hammer.
I just adore Rae as a main character. This girl has so many terrible things going on in her life, but she is just so strong and kind-hearted. Rarely do I encounter heroines with such adversity but such strong spirit. Rae does not come off as some sort of Pollyanna type either. She suffers a lot, and sometimes wants to give up, but she doesn't; she powers through, and I admire her so much for that. She makes decisions, both good and bad, and takes ownership of all of them, never passing the blame for her own choices.
While I thought the main thrust of the book would be her abusive relationship with a boyfriend, the main focus is more on family, both the one you're born into and the you build around you out of kindred spirits. Dean, her step-father, is the scum of the earth, but Rae's mother can't or won't leave him. He orders Rae around, steals the money she earns from her part-time job, and hits her if she doesn't please him. While he might be irredeemable, Schroeder shows the shades of gray in such a situation with the character of Rae's mother, who, while not a bad person, is unable to resist the sway of this man, even though she knows what he is.
Rae gets involved with a new boy at school, handsome and intriguing. Rae has always kept people at arm's length because she does not want anyone to know about the mess her family life is, and she never wants to end up like her mother. Something about Nathan calls to her, though. Schroeder depicts a very different kind of unhealthy relationship than those more often found in YA, one where he messes with her emotionally. Nathan pushes for sex and makes everything about his needs and wishes. He clings to her, jealous and needy. I love that Rae is very self-aware, not blind to what's going on, but struggles to make the right decisions anyway. This shows, far better than blithe unawareness of his manipulation, how strong the impact and pull of such a boy can be.
What really makes Falling for You such a strong novel, though, is that, despite the hospital and the abuse and the money issues, it's not an endlessly depressing book. There are a lot of sweet moments. Rae has friends she can depend on, and they have real conversations, good moments outside of everything else in her life. She loves her job and her coworkers. She finds fulfillment in submitting poems to her impassioned English teacher, Ms. Bloodsaw. Falling for You has a lovely message about paying it forward, doing your best to make this world a little bit better for someone, to brighten their day. This message is a wonderful one for teens and adults alike, and is shown, rather than merely lectured.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The ending felt the slightest bit rushed perhaps. I would have liked to know more about what became of Dean and what her home life was like at the end.
The Final Verdict:
When I reached the halfway point in Falling for You, I went to Goodreads and added all of Schroeder's other books to my to-read list, because I had read enough to know that I want to read everything this woman writes. Her beautiful writing, truthful depictions of real life situations, and well-drawn main character make Falling for You a book you cannot help falling in love with.