Title: Ready to Fall
Author: Marcella Pixley
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Pushkin Press/Allen and Unwin/Murdoch Books
Published: March 2018
Synopsis: A YA novel about a teen who finds hope and a fresh start after a terrible loss, and learns that being strong means letting go
When Max Friedman’s mother dies of cancer, instead of facing his loss, he imagines that her tumour has taken up residence in his brain. It’s a terrible tenant – isolating him from family, distracting him in school, and taunting him mercilessly about his manhood. With the tumour in charge, Max implodes, slipping farther and farther away from reality.
Finally, Max is sent to the artsy, off-beat Baldwin School to regain his footing. He joins a group of theatre misfits in a steam-punk production of Hamlet where he becomes friends with Fish, a girl with pink hair and a troubled past, and The Monk, an edgy upperclassman who refuses to let go of the things he loves. For a while, Max almost feels happy. But his tumour is always lurking in the wings – until one night it knocks him down and Max is forced to face the truth, not just about the tumour, but about how hard it is to let go of the past. At turns lyrical, haunting, and triumphant, Ready to Fall is a story of grief, love, rebellion and starting fresh from acclaimed author Marcella Pixley.
Max’s story begins with a flashback to when he was five, and the first time his mum came home from hospital after being sick. And then, ten years later, she has passed away from a brain tumour. Max has watched her slow deterioration, struggling to cope with his own grief as he goes back to school, and as his dad tries to make the best effort he can, but Max just wants to feel close to his mother, which is when his own brain tumour comes into being. Max’s belief that the tumour exists impacts everything in his life, and he begins to become withdrawn, hiding away from friends. When his father sends him to an artsy school – the Baldwin School, Max begins to settle down a little, finding friends like Fish he can talk to. But the cloud that is the tumour is always there, hovering at the edges of his mind – until the day he is forced to face the truth and come to terms with what has happened in his life.
This was a surprise arrival from Allen and Unwin – I have only managed to finish it now after a gap in other books presented itself, and found that, as strange as the story felt, it was one where I wanted to know what happened to max, to Fish and I wanted to know more about Lydie and her girls, Soleil and Luna.
When I read it, I could feel Max’s grief over losing his mother – it was raw, real and Marcella didn’t shy away from letting Max feel things or bottle them up – she let him exist as the person he was, wary, yet wanting to talk – yet not knowing how to begin a conversation. Throughout it all, I also felt for Max’s dad, whose grief was just as intense and in his own way, he dealt with it and showed his love for Max, though it was hard for him. When it came to Lydie and her twins, I enjoyed getting to know them and came to love them, especially Luna and Soleil as the novel progressed.
Of the friends at Baldwin, Fish was my favourite – the one who let Max be who he was, and didn’t judge him, who truly cared, but had secrets of her own. I quote liked Ravi too, because he seemed to temper The Monk, who I didn’t really like and couldn’t understand why everyone did when he came across as quite the bully, trying to get everyone to think like him – at times, I felt Max agreed with him to keep the peace. This showed I think, the dynamics of school and various relationships though, and in the end, it was the ones with Fish, Dad, Lydie and her girls that helped Max the most, and the ones I cheered for – because here we had family love, the love of friends, and romantic love – though this last one was a delightful surprise that wasn’t forced, and that felt real when it happened.
Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book when I first got it, I did enjoy it, though I found it hard to pin down a genre – it doesn’t neatly fit into one, and I feel that the books that do this are ones that are either very good, or potentially odd – this one was a little odd, but good – and the execution of the storyline, and anthropomorphising of the tumour made Max and how people deal with their own grief or illness interesting and relatable. A decent, though provoking read for teenagers.