Family and College: While I’m Falling by Laura Moriarty

While I’m Falling by Laura Moriarty while i'm falling

Published: 2009 by Hyperion

Source: local library

Synopsis: Ever since her parents announced that they’re getting divorced, Veronica has been falling. Hard. A junior in college, she has fallen in love. She has fallen behind in her difficult coursework. She hates her job as counselor at the dorm, and she longs for the home that no longer exists. When an attempt to escape the pressure, combined with bad luck, lands her in a terrifying situation, a shaken Veronica calls her mother for help–only to find her former foundation too preoccupied to offer any assistance at all.

But Veronica only gets to feel hurt for so long. Her mother shows up at the dorm with a surprising request–and with the elderly family dog in tow. Boyfriend complications ensue, along with her father’s sudden interest in dating. Veronica soon finds herself with a new set of problems, and new questions about love and independence.

Darkly humorous, beautifully written, and filled with crystalline observations about how families fall apart, While I’m Falling takes a deep look at the relationship between a daughter and a mother when one is trying to grow up and the other is trying to stay afloat.

My thoughts: The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty is one of my all-time favorite books. I adore Moriarty’s writing style and anticipated enjoying this book. While it wasn’t quite as moving as her debut, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s so refreshing to read a book where the focus is on family and self rather than a romantic relationship. Every once in a while it’s nice to retreat into a very familiar story world and that is exactly what While I’m Falling was for me.

CHARACTERS

The characters in While I’m Falling feel like people I know. Even if they are not the most exciting characters, they are all very true and each one is fully formed. Veronica takes a while to warm up to and I’m sure not every reader will connect with her, but I could definitely relate to her hesitation about moving in with her boyfriend, her frustration with her mother’s life choices, her worries about living up to her potential academically. Veronica is a “good girl” who runs into some bad luck and while she doesn’t go through a grand transformation, her struggles are real.

Natalie, Veronica’s mother, was very interesting. Her identity is very much as a mother and wife, and she doesn’t so much regret her decisions to live a happy suburban life, but when it all falls apart and her kids have grown up and she realizes her husband doesn’t love her with the kind of passion she deserves, she’s left in an uncomfortable position with limited options. The tension between her love and pride in raising her family and her new desire for something more is something that a lot of women and mothers could relate to, I’m sure.

The mother-daughter relationship was what made this book work for me. I’m very familiar with Veronica’s disapproval of some of her mother’s decisions but also related to the way she appreciated the love and support her mother had given her growing up, and how these conflicting emotions related to her own struggles and informed her own life decisions.

I really enjoyed the secondary characters and wished we would have had more time with Veronica’s friend, boyfriend, and sister, but since the action takes place over a long weekend, there just wasn’t time for more interactions with them.

PLOT

Veronica is struggling in her schoolwork, in her job as a RA in her dorm, and in her feelings for her boyfriend. While her issues are very “first world” and “white people” problems, they were still compelling.

Each scene is carefully constructed to both develop the character and advance the story. Details of Veronica and her family’s past are beautifully woven into the present action and never felt extraneous. The dialogue is impeccably realistic and meaningful.

There aren’t twists or turns; the plot unfolds in a rather predictable way, and readers who are looking for the quick pacing and surprises of a thriller will be disappointed, but readers who appreciate a very close, detailed look at the way real people interact with friends and family will be satisfied with this story.

SETTING

Veronica grew up in Johnson county, a Kansas City suburban community that has one of the highest median household incomes in the country. Her father was a successful lawyer and her mother was a homemaker and occasional substitute teacher. They led a comfortable life, but eventually some bad investments and unfortunate expenses forced the family to drop it’s country club membership. While Veronica’s older sister was fully supported through college, her parents aren’t able to do the same for her, which is why she doesn’t have her own car and has to work as an RA for the free room and board, rather than live off campus. The divorce only further complicates the family finances, and when Veronica’s mother Natalie is evicted from her apartment for having a dog (which is not allowed under the terms of her lease) she finds herself homeless.

This type of story is not uncommon in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Comfortable, middle class families lost their wealth and found themselves in situations they never imagined. As someone who volunteers at a local domestic violence agency, I’ve seen firsthand women who are educated and successful find themselves in similar situations and I was glad to see a realistic and non-sensationalized portrayal of these types of hardships that women regularly face.

I don’t know if this is less novel to people who live in larger cities, but I love reading about the town in which I live and my college campus. As a resident of Lawrence and a professor at KU, Moriarty certainly “writes what she knows” and the details about dorm life and the Hardees off the turnpike and the way the air smells in Wescoe were a treat to read about and very accurately portrayed.

SO, THAT WHOLE “NEW ADULT” THING

There’s lots of buzz about “New Adult” books in traditional media like The New York Times and USA Today and online in bookish circles. This is a great example of a book that is usually categorized as “women’s fiction” that I think touches on a lot of the themes that I want to see in “New Adult.”

Veronica has some romantic concerns. She’s got an older, graduate student for a boyfriend and she loves him. He wants her to move in with him next year so she doesn’t have to live in the dorm and work. She’s worried about the change in the power dynamic relationship that will result if she agrees and if she’s ready for that type of commitment. Then, there’s the dreamy hunk who lives in her dorm who inexplicably seems to like her, though others characterize her as the most boring girl they know. But these concerns aren’t the entire or even main focus of the book.

What this novel is really about is a young woman struggling with adulthood. She is recognizing the faults of her parents. She is not sure if the path to medical school is really one she desires. She’s figuring out who she is and what she wants.

Though the book is firmly adult fiction and lacks the immediate narrative style so often found in young adult fiction, this is a great example of a book that will appeal to readers looking for stories set in a college environment and features a character who is still “coming of age” though she’s now in her twenties and no longer a teen.

Recommended for:

  • fans of Curtis Sittenfeld for the deep level of characterization and the tightly plotted domestic storylines
  • those who want new adult literature to be more than contemporary romance
  • Jayhawks!

Second opinions:

Betty Boo Chronicles: “While I’m Falling is a quick, light and easy coming-of-age novel.  (I read this within two days, which is very fast for me.) This would make a good choice for a high school or college student to read on the beach, perhaps as a lighter read in between other required novels.”

Mostly Fiction Book Review:While I’m Falling is a funny, touching, and engrossing novel about a family in crisis. The author develops each character fully, portraying his or her strengths and weaknesses with sympathy and understanding.”

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5 thoughts on “Family and College: While I’m Falling by Laura Moriarty

  1. Molly, I don’t think I’ve heard one word about this book before this review and now I’m certain I’ll read it. There aren’t too many books set in college (well, relative to how many YA/NA books are being published) so when I hear about a good one, it’s an auto-TBR for me. And I think my favorite books are the ones where the characters are just regular people doing regular things.

  2. Pingback: Feminist Fridays: On Mothers and Motherhood in Life and Fiction | wrapped up in books

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