Kyle Andrews’s Strange Fall is a young adult paranormal book that digs significantly deeper than your average YA, especially in today’s world of Twilight and Harry Potter. The hero is a high-school age girl, Faeriwyn McKeller (usually called Winnie) whose beautiful, popular older sister died in a tragic accident; a year later, her family is drifting apart, unable to cope with the reality that Cindy is gone. Since the accident, Winnie has been drawn to death herself, rejecting her own life because she is living emotionally with one foot in her sister’s grave. Their parents Marion and Mark are equally troubled, even though one is a grief counselor and the other a paranormal investigator.
Add to this very serious, realistic core a dose of magic cast by an unbalanced megalomaniacal witch named Obell, a dead John Doe body animated by – well, something – and the sudden appearance of a strange dark force, and you have a book that could easily have gone the way of your standard young adult novel.
Except it doesn’t.
Instead, Strange Fall examines issues of loss and love and mourning in a non-self-indulgent manner. Andrews explores the rawness of mourning for a child and a sister and a friend, showing how different the experiences of each character are. The mother Marion is the rational one, keeping it together for the family (or so she thinks.) Mark becomes obsessed with the idea that his daughter Cindy has not gone on to whatever lies beyond death, but instead is trapped on Earth, needing him to protect her as he always did. Winnie acts out, as one would expect of a teen. In the short span of a night, the struggles of each character is explored thoroughly, from genesis to resolution.
There is no overt religious message in Strange Fall, but there is a God, and His mercy and justice are in the background of every page. A family that is scattered, emotionally and personally and physically, is drawn together by chance to become once again a coherent unit at the end. A being of true evil is destroyed by her own wickedness. Characters are forced to face their worst fears – and overcome them. Each character in the book is tested in some manner and, by surviving, grows. It is clear by story’s end that somehow, a pattern just beyond the world we know and understand impressed itself upon the characters, redeeming them, healing them, and helping them move on with life just as Cindy has moved on beyond it.
Andrews does a great job with some very subtle word play; you’ll miss it if you’re not paying attention. A couple of examples: Winnie’s loss of her sister becomes a genuine lost-ness in the story, as she finds herself thoroughly lost in the woods and in danger. The title refers both to the season of the book and the accident – a mysterious fall from a cliff – that led to Cindy’s death; it may also refer to the fall of each character into despair and sorrow before the redemption of this single strange evening. This verbal technique brings a peculiar feeling of cohesiveness to the story, as if the things that happened seemingly by chance were part of a grand design, as if meaning lies just beyond our comprehension. This makes sense, for does not death often feel this way? Again, with this trick Andrews impresses upon the reader that things happen by design; there is no true randomness in his story, but rather a great and incomprehensible pattern that moves in such a way we can only see the ragged edges.
This book is very suitable for teens of any age, and particularly appropriate for teenagers who are struggling to deal with death in some sense. It also stands well by itself as a work of surprising depth, making it equally appropriate for adults. I highly recommend it.