Book Review: Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts
I was pleasantly surprised by this lovely young adult novel, given that the premise sounds like a sure recipe for a depressing, coming-of-the-apocalypse tale.
In Tumble & Fall, the world is heading toward disaster on a global scale. The mile-wide Persephone asteroid is on a collision course with planet Earth, and unless a last-ditch effort to blow it to smithereens is effective, Earth as we know it will be no more.
With a week to go until the asteroid hits, we witness events through the eyes of three teen narrators, all of whom spend what may be their final week on Earth on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Sienna is newly released from a lengthy stay in mental-health home for teens after a desperate suicide attempt; Caden is edgy and sick of spending his life cleaning up after his alcoholic mother; Zan is mourning the loss of her boyfriend Leo in a tragic accident 10 months earlier. All three find themselves, in this final week, assessing their relationships, their families, and their own sense of purpose and self. As the clock winds down, they test themselves, test their limits, and figure out where they want to be — and by whose side — when the last moments come.
Here’s what the book is NOT about: Politics. Panic. Scientific intervention. Space missions. Global destruction. Building shelters. Selection of a chosen few to survive. In other words, this is not an apocalypse book along the lines of others we’ve seen before. While the basic premise immediately made me think of the two 1990s-era movies about death-by-asteroid, Deep Impact and Armageddon, there are no space cowboys and mad, so-crazy-it-just-might-work missions to (sound the trumpets, please!) SAVE PLANET EARTH!
Instead, Tumble & Fall is a strangely moving, introspective story about people and their connections. Some parts were funny, in a wry sort of way: All three of the characters, for different reasons, spend at least one night away from home without telling anyone, and while they worry about what their parents will think, there’s still a sense of “C’mon, the world is ending in a few days — drop the curfew!” Parents are forced to accept that they can’t protect their children; children are forced to acknowledge that parental love isn’t a one-way street. The characters on this island act out their love and commitment in so many ways — small acts of caring, coming home when they might feel like staying away, letting someone else be nurturing even when they themselves don’t need to be nurtured.
It’s hard to describe the sense of quiet doom lurking in the shadows. All of the characters know that there really isn’t any hope that the asteroid will miss. No one truly expects a miracle. As the clock winds down, the community gathers together, in sorrow and in love, because there really isn’t any other option. The end will come; it’s how they choose to spend the remaining time that matters.
Filled with lovely prose and vivid descriptions of the characters’ inner lives, this book moves at a fast pace and, once started, is really difficult to stop reading before the end. People who pick up Tumble & Fall expecting a big, flashy disaster book may be disappointed. But if you’re someone who appreciates reading about honest emotions, difficult choices, and people figuring out how to be when it really counts, then I strongly recommend Tumble & Fall.