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JOINT REVIEW: Falling Under by Gwen Hayes

Jia: Theia Alderson is a British expat living in the sleepy California town of Serendipity Falls. Because of the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death. Theia lives a sheltered and suffocating life courtesy of her overprotective father. That all changes when a mysterious new boy, Haden Black, comes to town. The strange part? Theia has met Haden before — not in-person but in her dreams.

falling underJohn: Falling Under took a chapter for me to get into, but I found myself frantically enjoying it as the reading experience went on. The YA paranormal genre hasn’t burnt out for me yet — although I have gotten more picky — and I found the unique spin on the common cliches to be intriguing and dark. There was something from the beginning between Haden and Theia that drew me in and absorbed my interest. I didn’t know exactly why, but I knew there was something in their story that I wanted to read more into.

Jia: I’m dangerously nearing the burn out point for paranormal YA myself so I understand becoming picky. Granted, I’ve always been very picky when it comes to fantasy and fantasy-related genres, just because of my reading background. For me, Falling Under was something like a cross between Twilight, Labyrinth, and the Hades and Persephone myth. Because of that, it didn’t draw me in since so much of it felt familiar.

Unlike you, Haden and Theia were my least favorite parts of the book. I wanted to give Theia a good shake several times throughout the story and Haden’s character embodies a lot of what I currently dislike about YA paranormal romances. Those things, combined with the push-pull of their on-again, off-again relationship, made the first two-thirds of the book a slog.

John: haven’t seen Labyrinth, but the Twilight/Hades and Persephone feelings were very much there. That myth didn’t register for me while reading, but it is rather present. Alice in Wonderland was also suggested (at least, to my reading experience). Theia did have some dumb moments, but I considered those moments where any teenager would make a mistake. I liked her because she managed to overcome them in my eyes when she stood up for herself. The scene outside the club (which is one of my favorites) where she basically tells Haden he’s a douchenugget made me clap. Jane made a comment about this book sounding like a Harlequin Presents novel, and Theia is one of the similarities. She’s more often than not a beta heroine who loves to swoon in her man’s arms, but by the end of the book she gets stronger and does some kick-ass things that would be plot spoilers.

Jia: Alice in Wonderland is a great comparison! A lot of the dream sequences and scenes towards the latter part of the novel fit that. I’d say Haden contributes more to the Harlequin Presents mystique. After all, you can’t have a proper HP beta heroine without a hero who treats her like a doormat. He, and his treatment of Theia, are the biggest problems I have with the book. He’s a jerk. He flaunts the other girls in front of her. He does that thing where if he touches another girl, Theia can feel it and that is skeevy. I feel sorry for Theia, and I feel sorry for the poor girl who probably thinks Haden’s into her, not knowing that he’s simply using her as a conduit. He claims that this is for her own good, that he’s trying to scare her away but honestly, he does a piss poor job of it. He visits her in her dreams, with what I can only call courting behavior. Talk about mixed signals. I end up feeling bad for Theia because a guy who embarrasses you in front of other people is not good news. I understand Haden’s behavior was meant to confirm his otherworldly nature and that he was not someone you should trust in any way, but it came off as gross rather than dangerous to me.

I did like the reversal in the last third or so of the novel. I think I would liked the book more if some of that type of action had been scattered evenly throughout the story. I was a little disappointed that when Theia does get stronger as a character, we switched over to Haden’s point of view. I have no interest in woobified characters and the angst that makes them do the bad things they do, so I was bummed. I wish we could have seen Theia cope with her circumstances and the changes in her life. On the other hand, we did get to see more of the supporting characters and that’s a plus in my book. Them, I really liked without any reservations.

John: I really enjoyed the dream sequences. The macabre parts were just so gruesome, and made the book feel really unique to me. Most PNR YA authors tend to go for a watered down darkness in their books. Haden is definitely a Presents hero, and that’s why I love him. After talking to Jane I started on the Presents line and was hooked on the heroes — and I resent the doormat comment (even if, for some of the books, it is true). Haden did flaunt girls at Theia, but he was also dealing with mixed feelings of attraction and attempted avoidance. As soon as she bitched him out and he was man enough to apologize, I felt like his assholery was redeemed. I thought the conflict was understandable considering he had been attracted to her for a long time (if a bit on the creepy side), and was finally able to work on those feelings — but of course have to destroy her soul at the end of it. I’d probably be sending mixed signals if my hormones were that erratic. Of course, in this case it’s a matter of reader understanding. I just happen to think Haden deserves it based on his apology (and the fact that he’s still sexy and acts more gentlemanly to her afterwords.)

As to the reversal, it really threw me for a loop. I never expected that to happen. My copy of the book probably gave me the eye as I sat gaping at it. The events that make it happen cause the reader to never see it coming. Gwen got major props from me for being able to surprise me that much with it. It showed a lot of character courage, because it was almost like she had to see it through Haden to get the full effect of Theia’s change. Staying in the same viewpoint for that particular section wouldn’t have been bad, but I think it would have jolted the reader even more. Out of the two of them, Theia’s personality was the one that changed most – and most readers wouldn’t have believed it no matter the circumstances. The way Gwen ends the book makes up for the lost Theia time in my opinion because the possibility it ends on is so devilish. In a way she does her readers (and story) a great service by actually corrupting her heroine. From all the PNR in YA I’ve read, the authors have a tendency to think that the characters have to be pure and corrupt attracted. The concept of two gray people is really rare, especially when the evil/darkness is a driving force of conflict in the story.

Jia: A bit creepy? Haden has been watching her without her knowledge for a long time! That’s stalking. Or, at the very least, obsessive voyeurism. That’s plenty creepy. I get that it’s part of his nature but there are plenty of ways to make a supernatural love interest seem genuinely dangerous without resorting to treating girls badly or using them. Theia shouldn’t have to call Haden out for using his abilities on her best friends in front of her. I believe that scene even happened later in the book, so he should already know that crosses the line with Theia.

The macabre scenes and dreams were absolutely my favorite parts of the book. They had a nice horror to them and I agree that while we see many paranormal YA novels labeled as “dark,” they’re a softer, toothless type of dark. That’s often a personal complaint of mine. They hint at a threat but never actually go there. The scenes in Falling Under remind me strongly of Nevermore, another paranormal YA that debuted last year. Readers who liked that aspect of Nevermore will probably like this aspect of Falling Under, because they’re very similar.

I think the main reason why I liked the reversal of Theia’s character is because it seems like it’s getting pretty rare to see such a strong character change over the course of a single novel. These days, where multi-book series are the norm, a character arc can take several books and sometimes I am just not willing to sit through 5 books to see if a protagonist evolves. That is just too much time. So I did like seeing Theia start at a certain point and end at a completely different one by the time the novel finished. But I think that’s also why I’m disappointed that we didn’t see it from her perspective. It doesn’t happen that often and when it does happen, we witness it from the guy’s point of view when I still think of this book as Theia’s story. Then again, I’m not particularly fond of late-introduced viewpoint narrators either.

What did you think of Theia’s relationship with her father?

John: That has also happened in Shiver, which is another book I enjoyed immensely (and, as I recall, so did you.) Where exactly does it go from sensual voyeurism to stalking? To me there is indeed a line, but in the world of PNR it’s not the cut and dry one. Romance and YA in general often show that kind of thing. Girls following the guys they like at school and learning random things about them because of their major crushes/lurve. We tend to not think that’s creepy, so what’s wrong with a hot macabre Darcy figure doing the same? Haden did watch her but it was out of interest, and he didn’t have a way to communicate with her until that point. He didn’t get pleasure from the act, so I felt like it skirted the creepy factor. It was implied in my reading mind that he wouldn’t have chosen that course if there had been a better (and admittedly less dark) way to see her and meet her. He tried to use them to get Theia away from him. It’s a lose/lose situation for Haden, because Theia is at least kind and bull-headed enough to insist she stay with him no matter the warnings. I didn’t recall any use of this tactic once she was actually into his conflict, but that could just mean nothing registered for me as important enough use of that behavior for me to remember it.

I have yet to read Nevermore, but judging on what I’ve heard and your opinion, I’d safely say that it would match this book quite nicely. The darker scenes were some of my favorites as well.

You bring up an interesting point, and I find it a real strength that the book wasn’t skimping us on a full character arc. I’m glad it happened because I wouldn’t have come out with as many positive feelings about Theia if she hadn’t been changed by her experiences. It would have been nice to see it from her view-point, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if there was a larger purpose for it. Her relationship with her father wasn’t my favorite. It was probably my least-favorite part of the book. Keeping her so secluded like that seemed extremely unrealistic to me – even if she reminded him of his dead wife. It was like something out of a gothic novel. It worked for the feel of the novel but in the next book I’d like to see it taken a step down or two so it feels more realistic and the conflict can be explored instead of heightened for dramatic effect.

Jia: Actually, my opinion of Shiver can be best described as “meh” and in fact, the longer I am away from having read it, the more my opinion goes down. The main reason why Haden’s behavior crosses the line for me is because it’s not consensual. He was watching her without her knowing. Not even in school or in a public place, but at home and in her dreams. It’s invasive. And I get the strong sense from the text that we, as readers, are supposed to give him pass because he’s hot. This is actually one of my least favorite tropes across all fiction genres.

I thought Falling Under had a lot of callbacks to gothic novels, to be honest. The whole opening scene where she’s running across the lawn of the big house in her virginal white nightgown felt very gothic to me. So I don’t think it was just the controlling father. I did like that it was a young adult novel where the parent is present and actually parenting (though admittedly not very well or in any way that could be called healthy) because I feel like there is a dearth of parents being around in YA novels. It’s improved in recent years but there’s such a long history of dead/absent/estranged parents in the entire body of literature for younger readers that it’s like a drop in the bucket. I do wish it could have been more positive. I have seen and known parents who are overprotective in the same way Theia’s father so his behavior wasn’t that unbelievable for me, especially when you take into account his personality which is very stuffy. I do think it faded out around the same point in the book where Theia starts rebelling, so I agree that the existing conflict there could have been explored more. It would be interesting to see how the father-daughter relationship changes in light of what happens to Theia.

Speaking of Theia’s other relationships, I did like her two friends and the guys around them. In a lot of books, the supporting cast seems to exist for the sole purpose of helping the main character and while they did help Theia when she needed help (because that’s what friends do), they had their own lives and interests outside of Theia’s concerns and conflict.

John: I thought your review of Linger implied a larger liking of Shiver, but that’s my mistake. This is a case where I freely gave my consent because I felt like his intentions weren’t malicious. ‘Supernatural stalking’ through powers and looking glasses – or anything like that, really – is problematic because more often than not if the heroine can read minds or see into dreams or what-have-you, it’s assumed the reader is okay with it because she either can’t help it or is from a culture/world where the use of the power isn’t as obtrusive. In Haden’s case, I think it’s much the same. Living in the human world his whole life would probably not have allowed him to find watching a strange girl okay. I’m not a huge fan of the trope but Theia didn’t dwell on it, so as a reader I didn’t necessarily read anything into it beyond ‘she’s okay with it’.

The gothic feel was very welcomed for me. I am a fan of PNR, but a story that has a touch of the spooky in it works wonders for me when I’m in a funk and need something more out of this world. To me my parents aren’t that overprotective, so it was just harder to relate to the situation. I haven’t met anyone whose parents have come close to that level, either. I didn’t completely disbelieve it, but it did make the scenes a little more strained for me. The changing relationship will definitely be something to see in subsequent books.

Her friends and their own romances were good highlights for me. It’s nice when the main character has strong people around them. I especially loved the straight guy in drag who played the role of fortune teller. That moment was so hilarious. So, what did you think of the book overall?

Jia: While I liked the gothic elements and nightmarish feel of certain sections of the book, my frustration with Theia, Haden, and their relationship kept me from full enjoying the novel. I also found the narrative to be uneven in terms of pacing. I mentioned earlier that the majority of the book dragged for me, and I would have preferred the action to pick up earlier rather than waiting for the final third to do so. So despite the fact that there were some parts I definitely liked about the novel, they were not enough to balance out the things I didn’t because the parts I disliked, I disliked a lot. So for me, this book was a C-.

John: The gothic elements were a side I totally agreed with you on. Gwen showed her best when she was writing those scenes. Distorted Alice in Wonderland should be a new subgenre of YA as far as I’m concerned. I found Theia and Haden to be more forgivable and human characters, and as a teenager their relationship didn’t bother me as much. I was sucked into the novel and read it very fastly, so the pacing worked for me. The book’s father/daughter relationship rubbed me the wrong way for most of the novel, and the only other thing I noticed that bugged me was that it still followed some of the YA PNR formula outside of the unique scenes. The elements were fresh enough for me to really enjoy it and anticipate the sequel, so I found the book to be more of a B+.

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This book is published by an Agency publisher meaning that the publisher sets the digital book price and there are no discounts.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

15 Comments

  1. DS
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 12:39:50

    OT: There’s needs to be a moritorium on certain book titles. I could think of three books called Nevermore but none of them were YA.

    Anyway thanks for the review. I am marking this one off my list.

    Also OT: I just finished listening to Agatha H and the Airship City which is the audio version of a novelization of a graphic series by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Reader is Angela Dawe. It was quite good. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be YA or not, but I wouldn’t hesitate to pass it on a friend’s 14 year old granddaughter–

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  2. fairyfreak
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 12:45:15

    “John: haven't seen Labyrinth” O_o
    I’m going to try and pretend I didn’t see that! *sigh*

    Liked the format of this review, good to have two different viewpoints talking out the issues with the book.

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  3. katiebabs
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 14:57:38

    When I read Falling Under, the first thing I thought of was the movei Labyrinth. That is one of the best fantasy movies of all time! I was crushing big time on David Bowie and his awesome mullet and tight tights. Haden did remind me of the troll king and even with some YA tropes, I did enjoy Falling Under.

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  4. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 15:03:37

    I just skimmed the review since I’m reading Falling Under now and I wanted fresh eyes, but I wanted to ask whether anyone has read the Iron King by Julie Kagawa? I’m getting a big Labyrinth vibe from that story from the plotline. Just started it though.

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  5. John
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 15:08:11

    @DS: In this case, it’s Nevermore by Kelly Creagh. A PNR YA that is a takeoff of the Poe variety.

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  6. Jia
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 15:19:31

    @Jeannie Lin: Unfortunately, I haven’t read the Kagawa. John has but that doesn’t help you because he hasn’t seen Labyrinth.

    @katiebabs: I was telling a friend that Falling Under is for readers who wanted Sarah to end up with the Goblin King and who wanted something more polished than your average fanfic AU. Because I know they exist for the Labyrinth fandom.

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  7. katiebabs
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 15:24:53

    @Jia: I was so addicted to Labyrinth fan fiction. I was hoping there would be a sequel, but no dice :(

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  8. Janine
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 16:32:16

    Gosh, I saw “Labyrinth” when that movie came out but I barely remember it. Until David Bowie was mentioned I thought you all were referring to “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

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  9. Gwen Hayes
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 17:06:19

    I really enjoyed this review because John and Jia remind me of Siskel and Ebert. I hope the two of you team up again.

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  10. Jayne
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 18:38:23

    @Gwen Hayes: Yes, I agree! Great dual review from you two.

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  11. SonomaLass
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 20:43:05

    Love the dual review! You two riff off of each other very well. Also, it really helps me to have the point-counterpoint on specific aspects of the book — makes it much easier to gauge who I’m more likely to agree with and (always important with YA) which of the younger readers in my life might go for this book.

    Thanks!

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  12. Helly
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 03:45:46

    Hmm, I thought at first you were talking about the book “Labyrinth” by Kate Mosse.
    Unfortunately, this format of joint review does not appeal to me.I could not really get a grasp of story really is about apart from the short introduction and to me it felt like the reviewers were mostly chatting about similar books/films that this book brought to mind. But, everyones different.

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  13. Grace
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 16:51:01

    I don’t usually read YA, but this has just been marked for my “to buy” list. I love The Labyrinth (the movie, the fan fiction, etc.), so any comparison to it in the original story has my immediate interest.

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  14. LizJ
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 15:16:44

    Well, if Twilight (and Harry Potter) has done anything, it’s opened up a floodgate of YA fantasy novels. Of course, so many tend to be copycats but that never happens in other areas of the publishing industry, does it (grins)?

    This one looked interesting when I spied it on Barnes & Noble’s web site…but I’m still wary of Twilight knock-offs.

    This review swung me in the direction of purchasing the book (which I did, last night, in Nook format). I’m happy to see that the author has given the fantasy elements a different twist beyond vampires and werewolves.

    And I liked Labyrinth…and like Tim Burton films, so the bizarre tone of the fantasy elements here is pretty cool, IMO. It is very dark and gory for a YA book, though.

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  15. Angela James
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 20:13:21

    I read this book a few weeks ago and while I thought Gwen’s writing was really quite good but I struggled with some of the aspects of the story you did, Jia. This in particular resonated with me: “Unlike you, Haden and Theia were my least favorite parts of the book. I wanted to give Theia a good shake several times throughout the story”

    But what I found myself wondering about Theia (and this book) was whether the book was intended for the actual teen market, or for the adult crossover market, because I think Theia’s actions were probably very appropriate for how a teenage girl would act (and boy, doesn’t that make me look forward to my daughter’s teen years)and her actions wouldn’t seem out of line to other teen girls reading it. But for to an adult woman? Yeah, I wanted to shake her a few times myself.

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