November 27, 2013

The Fall

by Colleen Nelson
Great Plains Teen Fiction
192 pp.
Ages 13+

I know that many misquote the proverb about pride going before the fall* but I believe a more apt saying should note that there are a few trips before that fall.  And that during those trips, you could catch and right yourself before that ultimate, consequential fall.  Most people know this, even Ben Olniuk, Colleen Nelson's 15-year-old protagonist in The Fall.  In fact, Ben makes note of this several times, after being faced with small decisions that result in him tripping.  Sadly, he doesn't heed any of these subtle warnings and he's not even the one who has the fall.

Ben's life is pretty simple. He lives with his mom and rarely sees his negligent and self-absorbed dad. His best friend is Tessa and he lives for skateboarding, which he does very well.  A seemingly inconsequential interaction in which Ben conceals a bag of pot dropped by another student brings him to the attention of Cory Anderson and Taz and Luke Dumont, a trio that rules the school through bullying and intimidation.

Although Ben initially rejects invitations to join Cory, Taz and Luke in partying, Luke seems to like hanging with Ben.  With an abusive father, weak mother and twisted older brother, Luke must see Ben's simple life as ideal, and Ben can't seem to stop himself from continuing to interact with Luke, Cory and Taz.  This is Ben's emotional tripping.  Sadly, one of the trio really trips and falls, leaving him dead and Ben is rumoured to be the cause.

Even though Ben realizes that "If you lie with dogs, you get fleas" (pg. 34), he can't seem to stop himself from making choices that lead to disastrous ends.  But author Colleen Nelson takes the reader beyond Ben and his choices to reveal that everyone is capable of making poor choices regardless of their motivations.  Anger, fear, jealousy, grief and guilt, as well as love, respect, and appreciation, can prompt a wide variety of responses, good and bad, and it's only the nature of our experiences, supports and personalities that will steer those decisions.  Still, Colleen Nelson demonstrates that, except in the case of death, there are opportunities to catch oneself and make things right.  While that may sound like The Fall ties up all loose ends, it's not that pat.  Just as we may not always know what we'd do under certain circumstances, such as witnessing a death, the boys and other characters seem surprised by how they handle circumstances.  Some are true to form, while others reach beyond themselves and out to others.  It's the breadth of her characters and their ability to transform or evolve that takes The Fall from an intriguing plot to a psychological page-turner.

*From the Book of Proverbs 16:18, the quote is "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."

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