The Falling of Stars is the story of what comes after a high-schooler has committed suicide. How it affects the boy’s family, friends, school. And how it penetrates the minds of two crucial characters, the dual narrators: Eve (a concerned mother) and Malik (Eve’s 16-year-old son who also happens to be a former friend of the deceased).
Before Traci begins weaving her suspenseful tale, she gives some really good advice: your worth is not determined by the lies in your mind. This relevant opening is the perfect introduction to a critical and timely story. Depression feeds on self-doubt and a diminished feeling of self-worth. More than 300 million people worldwide battle it. It is in every possible way an epidemic that many of us face.
So naturally, when I found out Traci was writing this, I was relieved. There aren’t enough books that address depression. Sadness, feeling lost—sure—but depression? Not so much. And the way the story unfolds is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The story made me evaluate my own feelings as I evaluated Malik’s; it made me imagine what it’s like to be a mother as I watched Eve struggle between taking care of her own child while still helping others. This book addresses two questions: What would you do if you lost a child? And what would you do if you were in danger of losing one?
What I love most about this story is something I’ve already hinted at—the dual narration. In the 700+ books I’ve read in my life, I’ve never once read one told from a mother’s and son’s perspective. I honestly wasn’t sure if it would work. I mean, talk about polar opposites. Their ages, their mindsets, their responsibilities—they’re all so different, but Traci gets into their heads and shows their thoughts so effortlessly. I really got a sense of who they were.
I also want to mention that when the metaphorical, not literal (thank God) shit hits the fan, you don’t expect the who or what or when. It’s a surprise, which to me is a sign of a successful thriller. Unpredictability = rockstar writing, in my book.
Traci’s previous book—her first release—The Rules of Burken had me on the edge of my seat, too, but this one felt different. This one felt more personal. I know Traci personally, and I could hear her in Eve’s witty comebacks. I could sense her self-challenging in Malik’s inner dialogue. Her experience as a mother who is raising two boys showed, and for that, I’m so appreciative because it made the story feel more authentic and genuine. This is not to knock Burken. If you read our previous review (here), you know Matt and I are fans, but this book just felt different, in a good way.
If you’re a mom or a teenager or one of the 300 million who battle depression…if you’ve attempted suicide like I have…if you feel a lack of self-worth, self-importance…read this book. It’s a wild ride, yes, but, for me, there was also something healing about it. (It always helps to know you’re not alone.) Simply put, this book matters.
There are times when Erica and I don’t necessarily agree on aspects of books. We bring our own natural biases into whatever we are reading, and sometimes that causes us to interpret content differently. With The Falling of Stars, one thing is clear: we both agree that this book matters.
As a man who has battled depression on and off for the better part of my life, I must say Traci does an amazing job describing what it feels like. I can’t speak for others, but for me, I know I have an episode coming on because one of two things happens: I either start feeling numb to events around me, or I get irritable as all hell. Both emotions are described in this book. It was a powerful moment to be reading a YA/Thriller and then see ME in Traci’s writing.
Erica gave the overall synopsis in her review above, but there was one part that was left out: cyberbullying. This plays a big role in The Falling of Stars. When I was in school, I was bullied all the time. A ginger with glasses and pale white skin, I looked different. But the bullying was done to my face. It helped me build my sense of humor and thick skin. Even in high school, we didn’t have online access to anything school related. This was the time of AOL and “You’ve Got Mail!”
Reading about what some kids go through when they are both getting shit from insecure kids at school and then coming home and getting more shit through online social media, including school intranet-based IM and websites, was incredibly eye-opening. Erica and I don’t have kids. We have a dog and nieces that are both out of high school, so it is fair to say we are pretty far distanced from the world of what current high-schoolers go through. If the events in this book happen to even one person at every school, that is still one too many. This book was powerful to me. In the days after I finished, when I was out walking the dog, I would find myself looking at the kids in the neighborhood, wondering if something similar was happening to them.
What was so astonishing to me is how easy cyberbullying can be—how powerful those little shits must feel behind a keyboard. If you have a child in late junior high or high school, you might want to read this book with them. It could be interesting to get their perspective in addition to your own. The Falling of Stars deals with heavy topics, but I think it would be a fascinating bonding activity full of teachable moments.
Erica mentioned The Falling of Stars versus The Rules of Burken, and I have a couple thoughts. For me, Burken was this rare story of trauma and yelling at the book, “WHY ARE YOU GOING BACK? RUN!” It was unique and unusual. The ending left some of the interpretation up to the reader. The Falling of Stars, however, felt more like a traditional thriller, in that there were traumatic events, adrenaline, misdirection, and closure. Traci’s writing style carried over nicely to this type of thriller; it is clear she is growing as a writer.
Erica and I were talking about how to classify a book like The Falling of Stars. Is it YA? Yes. Is it a thriller? Yes. In my opinion, it is both. I think this is the perfect opening of a new genre, YA Thriller!
One of my favorites parts of this reading experience was seeing Traci’s wit and sense of humor in the story. One standout moment is when Malik, finding himself in a hipster coffee place with a girl he is into, comments, “She rolls her eyes and orders some latte with organic almond milk and raw beet sugar, and I pull out my wallet to pay seven dollars for her glorified fertilizer.” I was drinking some water when I read this line and lost it. I choked on the water after laughing way too hard. We all know someone like this. I can’t wait to use the phrase “glorified fertilizer” with them the next time I see them!
I loved that part! That was one of many funny moments in this book. Considering how dramatic the events were, I’m surprised by how often I laughed. But then again, it is Traci. And Traci is freaking hilarious.
I’m so glad Matt brought up the cyberbullying piece. It was a huge part of this book. I got so caught up in the mental illness aspect, but cyberbullying is essential to the story. It makes it both unique and terrifying.
Ultimately, with this being her sophomore release, Traci proves that she is not a one-hit wonder who only wears one hat (hooray for mixed metaphors!), but in fact someone to keep your eyes on. Look out, NYT and USA Today. She’s coming for you!
To purchase a copy of or read a synopsis for Traci Finlay’s The Falling of Stars, click here.