When Savannah Gregory blows out her knee –and her shot at a gymnastics scholarship – she decides she’s done with the sport forever. Without gymnastics, she has more time for her best friend, Cassie. She’s content to let her fun, impulsive best friend plan a memorable senior year.
That is, until Cassie tries to kill herself.
Savannah wants to understand what happened, but Cassie refuses to talk about it and for the first time, Savannah has to find her own way. The only person she can turn to is Marcos, the boy who saved Cassie’s life. Being with him makes her see who she could be and what she really wants: gymnastics.
But Cassie doesn’t approve of Marcos or of Savannah going back to gymnastics, and the tighter she tries to hold onto Savannah, the farther it pulls them apart. Without Cassie to call the shots, Savannah discovers how capable she is on her own—and that maybe her best friend’s been holding her back all along.
Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book, published February 7th, 2017, via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.
Solely based on the blurb, I’d imagine that Lessons in Falling is a fun marshmallow contemporary set somewhere like Nebraska about a girl struggling to get back into her gymnastics career. Sweet and harmless.
Instead, what I got was the book that I didn’t know I would fall in love with. It’s fierce and fearless, tackling issues of racism, illegal immigration, poverty, injured athletes, and the complicated world of gymnastics.
If you want a book like the former, I’d gladly point you toward Shawn Johnson’s The Flip Side.
But the latter is what stood out to me. The characters are complex, the relationships develop well, and the romance is sweet. I haven’t seen a character who had perfect dry humor, wasn’t awkward, was sweet, grew over the course of the novel, AND was believable in… I can’t even remember the last time I had a character like that. Getting to know Savannah was a lot of fun, and I loved her character.
Lessons in Falling is the book that I didn’t know that I needed. It does feel much longer than its 250 pages, but it also accomplishes more in that short span than most books.
About the first quarter of the book is dedicated to covering Savannah’s developing relationship with Marcos, her friendship with Cassie, and her struggle with the idea of coming back to gymnastics. One of the minor issues that I had with this novel that started in the beginning was that words and phrases are used repeatedly to describe a certain situation or memory. It felt like Gallagher was trying too hard to get her readers to think of the characters or situation a certain way, but this is a debut novel, and I think it’s something that she’ll grow out of as she grows to trust her audience more.
The story goes on to include several notable side characters and build up Savannah’s network of friends. The developing relationships was quite possibly my favorite part of Lessons in Falling. We get to follow every notable character through his or her own struggles, but we also get to see Savannah reconnect with old friends, come to like someone that she initially disliked, get into a relationship, and attempt to preserve the relationships she has now. I admired Savannah’s loyalty to her friends and her understanding in the best and worst of situations. None of the characters were pushovers, but they tried to make room for each other, and I loved that about them. All of this, without the added drama and petties. This book is a gift.
And then Cassie tries to kill herself and throws everything off the tracks.
It was during this suicide attempt moment that I truly began to appreciate Gallagher’s writing. Depression and suicide are no small issues that suddenly come about because of nothing, and she doesn’t portray them that way. It was only after the fact that I recognized all the warning signs of depression in Cassie, and I was just as surprised by what happened as Savannah was.
Unfortunately, the transition between pre-suicide Savannah and post-suicide Savannah was the most rocky part. It was the only section of the novel where I felt that things were a tiny bit unrealistic. Savannah makes a lot of decisions out of the blue, or with the slightest nudging. I get that many things changed after what happened with Cassie, but it could’ve been smoothed over.
As mentioned above, Lessons in Falling explores many different themes, but in the end, this is a story about the friendship between Cassie and Savannah. The blurb does a good job of explaining the predicament: Savannah’s growing up and getting into Marcos and gymnastics, but Cassie doesn’t like either of those things. Even though there were some great crowd-pleasing moments to the ending, what the way that Gallagher handled Cassie and Savannah’s relationship was what most impressed me.
Cassie isn’t perfect. Savannah isn’t perfect. They’re growing up, and they’re growing apart. They don’t tell each other everything anymore. It’s not like when they were kids, but they still manage to find a way to make it work. Gallagher recognizes the complexity of the issue, and she ends the story in a pretty satisfactory way.
Overall, I’d say that Lessons in Falling is the story that I needed a year ago when all of my most anticipated picks were falling through. The story was everything I wanted from Elizabeth Eulberg’s Take a Bow, and I know I’ll be rereading and recommending it. That being said, it’s not perfect. There were issues with the writing that need to be buffed out. The pacing was too slow, the story dragged at certain points, and the description was good but overused. It’s not as polished as it could be, but all the elements are there. I believe that the author has the potential to grow tremendously in the years to come, and I look forward to what she has to offer.
Great debut novel. 4 stars.