Falling from Grace
By Jane Godwin
Holiday House; $16.95
187 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0823421053
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
In this dramatic tale of a girl gone missing, Jane Godwin's multilayered novel explores familial relationships and the nature of truth. This award-winning Australian writer opens her story with sisters Annie and Grace squeezing in one last game of hide and seek with their dad at the seashore. There's a storm coming and it's getting dark. Annie, younger by eleven months and more agile than her sister, scrambles up the side of a steep hill while Grace struggles when suddenly the ground falls away. Hampered by bad weather, the search is further thwarted by the police's conviction that the young man who found Grace's backpack on the beach may have had something to do with her disappearance.
Kip, struggling with his relationship with his parents after his decision to drop competitive swimming in favor of music, finds himself inadvertently involved in the case because of the found backpack. Having met up with a strange man on the beach who challenges and intrigues him with cryptic talk and an array of impressive guitars and music equipment, Kip soon wonders if the guy might have something to hide -- whether it has to do with Grace or something more sinister. As police attention increasingly swirls around Kip, his every innocuous action becomes suspect.
Annie, meanwhile, is forced to face up to the reality that her sister might not ever come back. Under the microscope of police and media presence, Annie begins to reassess her relationship with her sister, and how and where she and her sister fit into the family and within their own relationship. As both Kip and Annie independently go over the events of that fateful day again and again in their minds -- he preoccupied with the ominous shadow cast by the erratic behavior of the guy he met on the beach, she guilt-ridden about pushing Grace to follow her up the hill with the strong tide rolling in -- time is running out.
Narrated by alternating points of view, Godwin's book zeros in pitch perfectly on the adolescent voice. Kip's awkward steps toward independence from his parents and their expectations are juxtaposed with Annie's self-assuredness, showing signs of cracking under the stress of guilt, fear, and responsibility. Falling from Grace is fast-moving and tense. Godwin's setting, that of Point Nepean at Portsea in Australia during stormy weather adds mood and atmosphere to the book that reinforces and intensifies the drama. While Annie and Grace's backstory gets more of a skim than Kip's does, and one subplot in particular is left tantalizingly open, overall, Falling from Grace is a nuanced examination of siblings and family, identity and adolescence, breaking away and breaking free, with a conclusion that's as surprising as it is inevitable.
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