REVIEW: Headfirst Falling by Melissa Guinn
Dear Ms. Guinn,
This was the third New Adult book I’d read in a row, each featuring military heroes who had returned from overseas deployment. Unfortunately, in comparison to the previous two books, this one didn’t really stack up. I found the heroine read very young, there was a lot of push-pull, rinse and repeat, in terms of the romantic relationship and I thought the reaction to the heroine’s grief was way harsh. That said, there were parts of the book I enjoyed and the premise definitely caught my eye – I do enjoy the “in love with my best friend’s little sister” trope.
Charlie Day’s brother, Adam, is best friends with Jackson Stiles. Shortly after turning twenty-one both young men enlist in the Army and are deployed in Iraq. Adam doesn’t make it home, Jackson does. Charlie and Jackson had a secret kinda-sorta relationship in high school (she is two years younger) but Charlie angsted over Adam finding out so they broke up. Jackson has carried a torch for Charlie the entire time he’s been in Iraq and it is clear from the prologue that Adam knows and approves.
The main story takes up six months later, when Jackson returns home. Charlie, now twenty-one, has graduated college with a business degree and works in her father’s safety equipment company. She hasn’t dealt with the grief of losing her brother and self-medicates with alcohol. Right throughout the book, Charlie drinks heavily. Maybe I’m just too old but the easy acceptance of such reckless drinking was uncomfortable for me.
Charlie and Jackson are very attracted to one another but for various reasons each feels they ought not be together. Then they do. Then they don’t. And so on. It got old really fast. I felt a lot of the book was taken up with the main characters vacillating and that frustrated me.
Some of the writing, I felt was a little overdone – I could see where you were going but it didn’t quite work for me:
In a lifetime full of moments, a person only experiences a few defining moments. In the manner we use these moments, we are set apart from others and categorized in ways we may not understand. The trouble with this is that as these moments occur they’re not easily recognized, and just as difficult to decipher. It’s easy to miss them. Underestimate them. Too easy, really…to misjudge their true value.
Many people would argue that it’s not the moments themselves that define us, but the way we choose to live in them. I’ve never understood that, and maybe I never will. I have never consciously chosen to live in a moment a certain way; I have only chosen to live.
There was a lot of lip biting and smirking and some word/phrase choices jarred.
Seeing him like this makes me want to touch him. I bite my lip, brazened by the alcohol.
He sits up and scoots across the bed until he’s next to me. “Should I go?”
“No. Please don’t. Stay.” I lift my head, and it looks like his heart cracks as his eyes circle my face.
One of the highlights of the story was Charlie’s friendship with her BFF, Taylor. They share an apartment now but have been friends since kindergarten. Interspersed throughout the story are little vignettes of their friendship (mostly Taylor getting her into trouble) which shows their deep affection and connection. It is here also where the humour of the story shines.
“Who was that?” Taylor asks, her eyes not wavering in the least from Devin as he sheds his shirt.
“My dad. He’s cooking tomorrow. You wanna come?”
“Sure,” she agrees without hesitation. “I should bring something, huh?”
I wrinkle my nose. “I don’t think that’s necessary.” Taylor can’t cook.
When she turns to me her blue eyes have a wild gleam. “Come on! How fun would that be? I could make something.” She pauses, drumming her fingers on her chin as she thinks. “Like a pie!”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I protest, but she just keeps talking.
“An apple pie! It couldn’t be that hard, right? I already have the apples.” She lunges across the kitchen and snatches our only cookbook from the kitchen island.
You know that feeling you get…the one where you know something bad is about to happen. That’s how I feel about Taylor’s cooking. It’s dangerous for everyone involved. The last time she made something, Devin and I were sick for days. Days. I don’t care if cooking is one of her joys—it isn’t one of her talents.
I also enjoyed Taylor’s relationship with her boyfriend Devin and the friendship which developed between he and Jackson.
Jackson and Devin are on a beer run. I think they’re more into each other than Taylor and me, and she’s been in a wet bikini all day. That’s a serious bromance.
Part of the story I was most interested in was how Jackson was affected by the war. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the depth I would have wished. The story did touch upon Charlie’s conflicted feelings about Jackson coming home but not Adam, however, again, I didn’t feel it was explored very deeply. It is clear that Charlie is profoundly affected by the death of her brother. Her father is suffering a health crisis and her relationship with Jackson is in a state of flux – she is in denial about her grief, terrified and feeling alone, and drinks heavily. I did feel for her and was kind of surprised at how the other characters in the book seemed to regard her as “weak”.
…I’m gonna make you tough if it’s the last thing I do. You’re no quitter…you’re not your mother.”
Where I felt Charlie needed some counselling and a lot more support to deal with the issues she was facing, she was instead basically told to “get over it”. As a comfort technique that one pretty much fails for me. I was feeling quite protective of Charlie by that point and I was a bit annoyed on her behalf.
There was also a stalker-ish subplot (always with the sexual violence!) and a nasty ex-girlfriend (with some unfortunate slut shaming) – overall, I felt there was a bit too much going on in the book to do any of it justice. There was one part of the book, fairly early on, where Jackson beats up a guy who’s making unwelcome advances to Charlie at a pool party. The description makes it clear the damage Jackson wrought was fairly severe but there was no mention of any consequences arising from it. I was left feeling that it was in the book to show me that Charlie was a fragile flower in need of protection from various men who wanted to rape her (there was more than one) and that Jackson’s reaction was perfectly reasonable. I don’t particularly have a hot button when it comes to sexual assault (attempted or actual) in novels but I didn’t feel the book made any serious attempt to traverse the topic (as occurred, for example, in Fading). Rather, it felt it was there for manipulative effect.
There were parts of the story which were very engaging and the premise was a definite attraction, but unfortunately, for me, the book failed to live up to its promise for the most part. I give it a C-.