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'Falling In'

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[February 23, 2011]  "Falling In," by Frances O'Roark Dowell, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2010, 245 pages, ages 9-12

Review by
Louella Moreland

Looking for a book that is a tad unusual? Do you like fairy tales with witches, resourceful children, forests and cottages? Have you ever believed, perhaps, that you don't really belong to this world or to the parents raising you? Frances O'Roark Dowell's novel "Falling In" may be just the right choice for your next read.

Isabelle Bean has never been like other children. She has never "fit." Perhaps it is because her mother grew up in an orphanage. Perhaps it is because her mother, who is raising her, has had no experience with children, and her father left them when she was 3. Whatever the reason, Isabelle is different. She has had rather bad luck with making friends and has decided that being friendly doesn't work for her. The teachers at school roll their eyes and often send her to the principal when they don't seem to know what to do with her.

In fact, that is what happened the day Isabelle was hearing the buzzing coming up from below her. On her way to the principal, though, she came across an injured Charley Bender, who was on her the way to the nurse's office. Since Charley had never really been mean to her, Isabelle offered to help her there.

But while waiting for the nurse, Charley screams that she saw a mouse run into the janitor's closet. As Isabelle enters the closet to investigate, the door closes behind her. And she falls in. That's right. She falls into another world. She doesn't feel scared. In fact, Isabelle becomes rather excited to have an adventure. The buzzing was obviously coming from this world, guiding her to it.

Isabelle finds herself in an old-fashioned village school where the students believe she must be a witch. As she tries to convince them she is not, she learns from the children that a witch comes every season to one of the five villages to hunt down all children. This time it is Corrin's season, and all the children from that village have left to hide out in the camp or other towns.

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In Isabelle fashion, instead of heading toward the safety of the camp, she heads straight toward the witch. After all, she has always believed she was a changeling.

Isabelle not only finds the witch, Grete, but meets a girl, Hen, on the way. The girls learn that Grete is not a witch, but a healer, who does not eat children at all. As Isabelle begins to think of Hen as a friend, Grete reveals a startling truth.

Dowell has woven both of Isabelle's worlds with details that bring the reader into the thick of the story. We see the drabness of the world above and the beauty of the world below. We understand Isabelle's loneliness and desperation in wanting to be a part of a society that has shunned her. But most of all, we reach into our own hearts and minds and remember the desperate wishes that our imaginations could almost make us believe were truths.

"Falling In" will not be a novel for all readers, just the ones who wish for a journey that takes them on an adventure outside the world in which they live until they are ready, as Isabelle was, to fall out again.

To read this and other books in this genre, visit the Lincoln Public Library at 725 Pekin St.

[Text copied from file received from Louella Moreland, Lincoln Public Library District]

(Ms. Lou's blog:

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