Release Date: December 9th, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Drama, YA
Source: Received in exchange for review
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Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.
When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.
Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities.
I’m afraid No Place to Fall ended up being… not my sort of book. I liked its original premise, but ultimately the book and I just ended up not working together. I think it’s a little bit of it’s-not-you-it’s-me and also a little bit it’s-also-a-bit-you. That’s not to say I’m entirely negative about No Place to Fall. In the end, I mostly felt “meh” about it.
One thing I liked: In No Place to Fall, out protagonist Amber has a lot of casual sexual relationships. During the summer, she goes to the hiker’s barn to talk with hikers and also make out with them a little. Later, she kind of casually sleeps with a boy she knows. Thankfully, nowhere in the book did the narrative look down on that. There is a bit of slut-shaming by other characters, though that has nothing to do with this particular boy. However, it’s made really clear that having kissed quite a few different boys is in no way a really bad thing, or somethign you should be shamed for. It’s something that happens. Period.
Now, Amber’s reasons for doing these things might be a little bit… dodgy at times. Mostly she just does it because she likes to (which I’m completely fine with), but there’s also a part of her that uses it as an escape from her home life. And what a home life it is. Amber basically has every possible problem at home: her mother is way too protective, her father is a cheater, her sister is married to a drugs dealer and going down that path herself, while living in a trailer with her little kid. The drugs dealer, Sammy, is basically a complete asshole and keeps pressuring Amber to do things she doesn’t want to. Sammy felt like a bit of a charicature at times. Yes, there is some depth to his character and it’s kind of fascinating to see his “I only need this and this, then I’ll stop” mentality, but he was just so “evil” in basically every way. Over the course of the novel, he deals drugs, neglects his wife, pressures Amber to do things she doesn’t want to, blackmail Amber, make inappropiate sexual advances towards her, which evolves into what could have been sexual assault (he only stopped because someone caught him, luckily very early on). That’s quite a list.
Luckily, Amber also has some friends, both old and new. I especially liked the shy guy, Sean, who was overall very nice. But then this had to happen (in this scene, Sammy is pressuring Amber to sing for Sean, even when she doesn’t want to):
[Amber:] “Sammy, I told you no.”
“You think I listened? I need you, Amber, and you know we’ll be great.”
Sean nudges me. “I wouldn’t mind hearing you sing.”
After that, Amber gives in and sings for him. It might seem like an unimportant scene, but basically what’s happening here is that Sammy is pressuring Amber (once again), who has clearly expressed she doesn’t want to do something. Sean, who is supposed to be her friend, doesn’t stand by Amber and say something like “you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” No, instead he sides with Sammy and also pressures Amber until she gives him. I’m sorry, but this is just wrong on so many levels. It might be changed in the final copies, though, since I read an ARC, I don’t know that.
Now, according to the synopsis this book is mainly about Amber’s audition and her desire to get out of the little town she lives in. Wrong. No Place to Fall is about the life of Amber, a small-town girl, who likes to sing and, hey, guess what, she’s going to do this audition. It did play a role in the novel, but not nearly one as big as the synopsis leads you to believe. I didn’t have a lot of issue with this, but be warned if you really expect this to revolve around the audition. (By the way, if you want something diverse that focusses a lot on audition but also other issues, I recommend Hannah Moskowitz’ Not Otherwise Specified.)
I did have one major issue with No Place to Fall, but it’s very spoilery. The non-spoiler version is: some people act very -in my opinion- unnatural when something is revealed. Now for the longer and more detailed one:
*** SPOILERS, READ AT OWN RISK ***
So at one point in the novel, Amber is in the bathroom of her friends Kush and Sean’s parents. Alone. She sees a pretty lipstick and decides to try it on (don’t ask me why) and then notices some medicine with Kush’ name on it. She decides to steal the bottle and sell it to Sammy. That’s a stupid decision, of course, but okay, this book is about decisions. A long time later, when the police is involved (!) she confesses everything to Kush’ mother. And this is the part I couldn’t believe: Kush’ mother acts not shocked at all, doesn’t mind one bit, and is all, “oh, we all make mistakes, don’t worry about it, darling, and then GIFTS HER THE LIPSTICK. What!? What Amber did could have (and almost did!) gotten that family in HUGE trouble, because Kush’ name was on the bottle with pills and selling those is highly illegal. Sammy had already been arrested for dealing before, so it’s no surprise he got caught again… With Kush’ name on the bottle. Kush could have ended up in jail and his mother just laughs it off? I didn’t think so. Besides, where were the consequences? Surely we don’t want to teach kids that it doesn’t really matter when you “make a mistake” by doing something that is ILLEGAL.
*** END OF SPOILERS ***
Okay, rant over.
In all, No Place to Fall just left me unimpressed. There were some good sides to it, but overall I just failed to connect to this novel. The things that annoyed me took over the things I liked. I think it’s mostly an it’s-not-you-it’s-me situation, so if you like the synopsis don’t give up on this one yet. I do think it has potential, but overall: not for me.
~Thank you, HarperTeen, for the review copy!~
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