Fallen by Lauren Kate (2009)
I don’t exactly know what has made me gravitate toward young adult novels this summer, but for whatever reason, I keep finding myself in that section of the bookstore. That’s my only excuse for picking up Fallen by Lauren Kate. The synopsis on the back cover sounded interesting and unlike every other paranormal YA series, so I decided to give it a try.
Yes, this is another first book in a series. Our protagonist is Lucinda “Luce” Price, a seventeen-year-old girl who has been ordered to attend Sword & Cross Reform School by the court after being involved in the death of a young boy at Dover Prep, Trevor. Luce isn’t really clear on what exactly happened the night that Trevor died, but the police and the court think that she is somehow responsible, and for the public good decree she should be sent to a reform school. What Luce is clear on is that she has seen “shadows” since she was five years old and she suspects that these shadows had something to do with Trevor’s death (note: in my opinion, these shadows aren’t really satisfactorily explained by the end of the novel). Luce’s parents are shown as loving and fearing her at the same time and go along with the court’s orders. When Luce arrives at Sword & Cross a month after the school year has begun, she learns that cell phones are not allowed and that the school has installed a significant amount of surveillance cameras (called “reds”) to watch each student’s every move. The students dress in all black and Luce has the typical struggle of trying to fit in while keeping the real reason that she’s at Sword & Cross a secret.
Early in the story, we are introduced to the primary cast of characters. First there is Arriane, a girl who is rough around the edges, nosy, but interested in being Luce’s friend. Then there is Penn, who becomes Luce’s closest friend at the school. Penn’s father used to be the groundskeeper at Sword & Cross but he died two years earlier, and Penn has remained at the school since then. In this way, she, too, doesn’t seem to fit in at the school, and perhaps that’s why the two become friends so quickly. Penn is also Luce’s partner in crime, helping her to research the mystery plot that drives the story forward. In addition to Arriane and Penn, there are Molly and Gabbe who are clearly there to be sources of conflict and antagonism for Luce. The two main male characters are Cam and Daniel. Luce is instantly drawn and attracted to Daniel, but he ignores her and is kind of cruel and mean to her, but Luce is not deterred. She has the feeling that they have met before, and she is driven to unravel the mystery that is Daniel, all while (inexplicably) falling for him. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Cam who is nice to Luce, pays attention to and shows concern for her, and wants to date her. Thus, Luce is caught for much of the story in the age-old dilemma—good boy vs. bad boy.
It seems to me that one of the conventions of paranormal YA fiction is to give us a protagonist that is somehow different from what is considered “normal” and isolate her in a setting where she comes to understand why she is different. I understand why this convention is necessary—it separates the protagonist from her family and forces her to navigate this new environment. It’s the classic first stage of a coming-of-age bildungsroman. I also understand Luce’s drive to unravel the mystery that surrounds Daniel—because in doing so, she’ll also start to unravel the mystery of her difference and the meaning of the shadows she has seen for most of her life. I even understand the love triangle between Luce, Cam, and Daniel because this book is marketed as a teen paranormal romance novel.
I don’t have a problem with the use of the conventions. The problem is that they aren’t put to use in an interesting way. I was really bored for most of the book because it all felt so predictable and derivative. And while there is conflict between Luce and just about every supporting character, the corresponding tension needed for me to feel like something important was at stake was missing. I also don’t have a problem with the romance. In fact, I love a good romance, but again, this romance was just boring and stale. I didn’t care about whether or not Luce obtained the object of her affection because the love story felt superficial and more like a plot device than a story of two people falling in love. I suspect this may have something to do with the way in which the author keeps Daniel distant from Luce and the reader. I know she does this because it stretches out the mystery, but it just didn’t work for me. Finally, I wasn’t impressed with the protagonist. Look, I know it’s been said many times but it’s still true for me as a reader, particularly when it comes to YA fiction—give the reader a strong female protagonist. Please, please, please, can she be interested in more than just her teenage crush on the mysterious hottie? Can she make decisions and want things from life that don’t solely revolve around the love of her life? Can she be multi-dimensional and multi-faceted? I think about young women reading this book and I just want them to know that being in a loving relationship is not the only thing waiting for them and it’s not the sole reason for their existence.
I didn’t like this book, but I made myself finish it and I won’t be reading any more books in this series. My advice—skip it when you come across it in the bookstore.