August 23, 2007


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Falling, by Doug Wilhelm (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, 241 pages)
Reviewed by Lisa Parsons

With his new young-adult novel Falling, Doug Wilhelm, also the author of The Revealers (2003,, avoids melodrama while nailing the feelings of betrayal and disorientation that happen when a family member abuses drugs.

Falling centers on high school freshman Matt and how his life changes when his older brother-friend-hero Neal goes from shiny clean basketball star to heroin-snorting loner. Matt not only loses a brother and pal, which is painful enough in itself; he simultaneously gains a selfish, paranoid, unpredictable, frequently mean and sometimes zombified housemate: “Matt thought: He needs a new name. He’s not Neal anymore.” Matt is torn between wanting to protect his brother and wanting to hit him, and his social life — which had been pretty good — is now shot because of his deep drive to keep the whole thing a secret.

Falling is not a diatribe or a dark story. It’s a well-crafted novel about a young man taking care of himself in a crappy time. The experience is the point of it; the ending only matters for what it is not — it is not artfully awful or artificially happy, either of which could have ruined the book.

The story is set in Rutland, Vermont, where the author lives.

Because it is written for teens and I am not one, I found myself wanting to skim Falling at times when its language is fairly simple and there’s a bit of extra driving-the-point-home. The rest of the time, I wanted to call Doug Wilhelm and thank him for achieving such an honest yet wallow-free portrayal, of which there are too few. ALisa Parsons