Tuesday, December 16, 2014

No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown

No Place to Fall
* * * *

Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.

When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.

Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities. 


To avoid the dysfunction of her family life, Amber and her best friend Devon have been spending their summer evenings at a hiker’s cabin in the woods on the Appalachian Trail; meeting people from all over the country, making music and sometimes hooking up.  During those evenings, it’s the music that makes Amber feel like she has a future.  Possibly one far away from her small hometown.

As the new school year gets underway, life gets complicated.  First, there’s Devon’s brother, Will.  After an unexpected encounter with Will (which we should note she has had a bit of a crush on for a while), Amber is left feeling confused and regretful.  Then there are the two new kids at school; one who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Amber and the other who immediately bonds with Amber over their mutual love of music.  And the most complicated issue of all is Amber’s family.  A dad that doesn’t do such a great job of hiding the fact that he’s cheating on his wife; an older sister and brother in law that are on the fast road to jail time and losing their very young son; and a sweet overprotective mom that purposely puts on blinders in hopes that the dysfunction going on around her will just disappear. 

When Amber finds out about auditions for a performing arts high school in Winston-Salem, she sees a future that includes not only doing the things she loves most but also escaping her flawed family situation.  But in an attempt to help a friend re-connect with the music that he loves so much, Amber manages to break too many rules (and laws).  Her actions could cost the audition for which she fought so hard as well as her friends, including Will.   

There is no ignoring it.  This story is uncomfortable in places.  There are a number of topics/situations that might turn some readers off – cheating, drug use and racism were the three that stood out.  All three of these things were problematic for me but the racism bothered me most.  It was a situational comment by Amber that was obviously used to give the reader insight into where she lives and how she was raised.  It occurs in the beginning and I have to say that I almost decided to not finish this book because of it.  But I was so tired of being disappointed by books and not finishing them that I decided to plow through anyway.  

And I am glad that I did.Because there is also no denying that this story makes you think.  It forces the reader to consider the complicated fact that privileges and opportunities can be so much more accessible to some but not to others and how difficult it can be to pursue a dream when personal circumstances don’t allow for much support.  

No Place to Fall is a great new addition to the world of contemporary YA.   It’s a thought provoking book that will grab your interest and keep you turning the pages every step of the way.


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