Sometimes you come across an author who writes such fantastic stuff that you really wonder why on earth they’re not on all the awards lists ever, or being interviewed by the Guardian, or appearing on Top YA lists everywhere. EDEN by Joanna Nadin made me feel like this – and Sheena Wilkinson’s STILL FALLING has done it to me again.
I’ve read one of Sheena’s other books – the wonderful GROUNDED – and I absolutely begged her for a copy of her latest when we met up at the Scattered Authors’ retreat recently. I have a huge pile of To Read books at the moment, but Sheena’s went straight to the top because I knew I’d like it. And I did.
STILL FALLING is the story of Luke and Esther. He’s epileptic and in a new foster home. She’s unhappy with her body (what teenage girl isn’t?) and thinks she’s unattractive, trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s lost her Christian faith (curiously, in much the same way I did at the same age) whilst her parents are still quite devout.
They meet. There are fireworks. It’s that teenage intensity, with everything that comes with it. And that’s it, basically – except that that is everything to a really well-written book about teenagers. I love good characterisation. Characterisation – and naturally developing events – carry a book through, for me. And Luke and Esther are just perfect creations. I particularly liked Esther, a kind, sensible girl, with her head screwed on right, as we’d say, and a good heart. But being a teenager is crazy in so many ways, and even someone with a decent background and some brains can get messed up easily.
The story is told in alternating perspectives: Luke and Esther have their own voices. And when we see inside Luke’s head, we see some very dark places indeed. There’s a voice that speaks to him from the darkness – a voice that refers to things that Luke doesn’t want to think about. Things that if other people knew, Luke fears his life would come crashing down for good. And that makes him mistrust not just other people, but himself as well. Because if you’re trying to lie to yourself, how can you be sure you’re not lying to everyone about everything?
STILL FALLING is – I was going to say ‘gritty’ but what does that even mean, anyway? – real. It is the sort of book that grabs you and drags you along, and makes you care horribly about the people involved and wish so very hard that things will turn out OK, because Sheena is such a good writer that you know as a reader that real life isn’t about happy endings. And so you have to keep reading, because you can’t be sure that Luke and Esther are going to come through this.
Sheena – just so you know – I thought the ending was exactly right!
STILL FALLING is out now, published by little Island, and if you like your books full of the best and worst of humanity but with a real warmth running through them, you should love this.