Book Review: In The Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith
Goodreads Description: Jonah and his younger brother, Simon, are on their own. They set out to find what’s left of their family, carrying between them ten dollars, a backpack full of dirty clothes, a notebook, and a stack of letters from their brother, who is serving a tour in Vietnam. And soon into their journey, they have a ride. With a man and a beautiful girl who may be in love with Jonah. Or Simon. Or both of them.
The man is crazy. The girl is desperate. This violent ride is only just beginning. And it will leave the brothers taking cover from hard truths about loyalty, love, and survival that crash into their lives.
One more thing: The brothers have a gun. They’re going to need it.
My Review: This review will have spoilers, which is something I don't normally do, but I feel it's necessary to explain my thoughts about this book, so warning's ahoy.
I'm kind of conflicted about this book. The truth is I wanted to give it a higher rating. It was a book I thought I would be too forgiving of, or too generous with when it came to my stars. The reason for this is that I absolutely love Andrew Smith's style of writing. I like the light touch, the way he peppers his work with onomatopoeia and these threads of ideas that blend together. I loved the heart of this story, which is two brothers try to get somewhere and hitching a ride with a pair of mysterious folks that turn out to be much more than they bargained for. But I feel like the threads that were begun didn't come together in time, or at all, and the characters had been set up like fireworks but weren't ever lit.
I'll start by saying that I think the light touch was a little too light for this book. The heart of this story is majorly character driven, and so I feel like we needed to see more of what was going on in each character's head and heart to ultimately see the whole picture. For example, the beginning of the book was quickly building tension between Jonah, our main character, and Mitch, our antagonist. The two characters butt heads over Lily, as well as Simon, but there's no heat under their words. I feel like we got to bare minimum for what they were feeling, when really that emotion and heat should have been fueling the story. In some places, the emotions and motivations for the characters were drawn out beautifully. For example, Mitch's hatred towards the brothers wasn't random, and it became achingly apparent that it was fueled by jealousy, since the brothers got so close to Lily. But on the other hand, I felt like I didn't know enough of what drove Simon, and made him so fully embrace Mitch and his ways.
Which brings me to a big reason as to why the rating sunk so low, and that was Lily. I really liked her and the dynamic that she introduced. She caused a lot of tension between Simon and Jonah, poked and prodded at Mitch and kept things interesting, but at the the end of the day she was nothing more than an object. I was excited by her and what her character could bring about (for example, I was surprised at the suddenness of which she crawled into bed with Jonah, and loved the sudden shake up of it all). She was the reason why the boys got into the car with Mitch, she was the main reason Mitch hated and even wanted to kill the brothers, in a way, she was the one who began the road trip with Mitch, since it was revealed she was asking him for a ride to California before Jonah and Simon came into the picture. She was the reason and the cause of all these plot points, but she was SUCH a passive character. She didn't so anything, barely made her own decisions, and even when she did, we were kept in the dark about a lot of her history to make her more 'mysterious' but it only left her motivations seriously lacking. I wanted to learn more about this character. The brothers were convinced she was "messing" with them, but I saw no evidence of this, nor any clarification as to what she was actually doing.
Now, I knew Lily was going to die. It became pretty apparent by mid book, but even still I wasn't upset by this. I expected her to take action before the finale, perhaps take a bullet for Jonah, but I was sorely mistaken. Lily grows weaker and weaker after she and Simon escape from Mitch until, wait for it, SHE DIES. That's it. They put her to bed, she's sweating and obviously ill, and the boys decide she needs help. They run out to the truck, (avoiding Mitch who is hiding outside somewhere hunting them). They make it to the truck, get the gun, and then RUN BACK TO THE HOUSE. You see my confusion here? They didn't even bother to drive the truck back to the house and grab her so they could actually get her help. And why didn't the author bother with this? Because when they run back to the house, Lily has already "stopped breathing" due to some mysterious pregnancy illness. I literally balked at the page. I couldn't believe how Andrew Smith had so blatantly disregarded a character, used her as an object and then tossed her away without so much as an explanation to her death. I was absolutely flabbergasted. She started this book as Mitch's possession, made little to no effort to establish herself as her own character outside of things pushed on her by the brothers (running away wasn't even her idea, nor did she express much want for it), we learned next to nothing about her history or her motivations, and then she died to make the antagonist a little more angry and to drive tension up a notch. I was thoroughly unimpressed.
More so, what dropped this rating even lower was some of the style choices the author used. The story was written in first person through Jonah's POV, but we continued to jump from POV to POV, while keeping Jonah in first person. This was ridiculous, in my opinion. The story called for third person with multiple POVs, and it felt like the author was clinging to first person for whatever reason. It dragged the story down and, in my opinion, came across as highly amateurish. First person can be a great way to tell your story, if it's used properly.
The second style choice that made me see red was the choice to switch between present and past tense, often between Mitch's POV scenes and the rest of the story. I understand why some authors choose to do this, but there should be a damn good reason to mix tenses like that. It should be apparent, so when a reader starts on a passage that has switches tenses/POVs, they understand the reason for it. It felt like the tenses and POVs were chosen and thrown out at random, again really making this feel like a teenager's first book. Which is such a bummer, because I mean it when I say I really like Andrew Smith's style and the overall story here.
TL;DR: 2/5 stars. A real bummer.
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