Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review: Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell

pages: 272
Genre: MG/YA Fantasy
Pub. Date: March 9, 2010
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "B z z z z z z z The buzzing sound? Do you hear that? There it is again. B z z z z z z z No? Well, I really shouldn't have asked. Most people can't hear it, anyway. But, if you could, you'd think it sounds like you're teetering on the edge of the universe. That's what Isabelle Bean thinks...and she's not that far from the truth. B z z z z z z z You really don't hear that? Well, it's actually not that great to have a buzzing in your ear. It's distracting for one thing. And when Isabelle starts listening to the buzz instead of, say, her boring teacher, strange things happen. She gets sent to the principal's office (that's not so strange), but then while awaiting her punishment, she tumbles into an adventure—into another world that's a little bit different, a little bit Hansel & Gretel-y, a little bit like a fairy tale, which would be great, but...did I mention that Isabelle is an unusual dresser? When she shows up in fairy-tale land wearing her favorite high, pointy boots, the fairy-tale people start thinking that Isabelle is a witch -- and not just any witch, but the witch! From Edgar Award-winning author Frances O'Roark Dowell comes the unlikely story of Isabelle Bean—an ultimate misfit, an outsider extraordinaire, and not a witch!"

Isabelle Bean is a quirky middle schooler that is pretty much in her own world.  On her way to the principal's office, she opens the door and then literally falls into this fantasy world.  In this world the children are running from a witch and they fear perhaps Isabelle could be THE witch.  What is even scarier is the fact that this witch eats children.  Instead of running from this witch like the other children, she decides to find said witch.  After all, Isabelle is convinced that she is a changeling after entering this alternate universe.  Isabelle's journey is a laugh out loud adventure that is simply fun.  Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell is a middle grade novel that both boys and girls will enjoy; readers will love to be lost in Isabelle's world.

This is the first book I've read by Dowell and I must say that I love her writing style. Normally when authors "talk to the readers," it drives me nuts, but in this case, it worked. This book is so zany and humorous that the asides really brought the story to life. In fact, this would be an excellent read aloud for a middle school or upper elementary school classroom due to all those eccentricities.  When I say this book made me laugh out loud, I truly mean it.  I was hysterically laughing and I think my students would be too.  For examples: 
"You've probably guessed that about her already, haven't you?  Yes, Isabelle thought she was a changeling.  Or at least believed there was a strong possibility she was a changeling. Okay:  She had no proof whatsoever that she was a changeling, but she really, really hoped it was true.  You know about changelings, right?  Please don't tell me you go to one of those schools where they teach you only things you can actually prove, like two plus two equals the capital of Arizona.  Do you hear me sighing?  I want you to march into your principal's office first thing in the morning and say, "I demand you educate my imagination!"  Homeschool? Tell it to your mom.  There are changelings everywhere.  Most bullies are changelings, but a lot of shy children are too.  That kid who's always tripping over his own two feet? Definitely a changeling" (page 42-43).  

Dowell also has a tendency to jump around in her narration. One minute she will be talking about one thing and then next, the story flows into a different topic and then she's back on the original topic. I think middle schools often think like this and would probably like this entertaining style of writing, which, by the way, includes many sidebars and details.  It felt a bit too ADHD for me, but that is my only complaint.  Dowell's intended audience would probably get a kick out of it. 

I love that this book takes Isabelle into another world and it reminded me of the Narnia series and of course, Alice in Wonderland; however, it was very modern.  Modern readers will enjoy this new idea of "falling in" another world while at school; I'm sure all my students have all thought about it or even hoped for it!   But this novel, although it's a fantasy, still has a deeper theme and important message that can be discussed, such as the importance of imagination, prejudice, etc.  In fact, this book has received a lot of Newbery buzz, which is why I immediately picked it up after the Newbery presentation I went to earlier this week.  In sum, France O'Roark Dowell's Falling In is a whimsical adventure that fans of middle grade fantasy shouldn't miss, especially if you want a quirky, unconventional read!  


  1. I'm so glad someone reviewed this book! I've seen in and thought it looked cute (plus I love the cover). Thanks for pointing out some things that might bother a reader, I can use tht when sharing with my students.

  2. This book sounds like such a fun sweet book. I don't really read MG books, but I'm interested in reading this one now. Great review. :D

  3. Hark! Did you say whimsical? Sounds like one for me :)

  4. Jill- Thanks for stopping by! I think our middle school students will enjoy this one!

    Adriana- Thanks for stopping by! It is definitely a fun MG read!

    Juju- Haha. You crack me up, but it definitely is whimsical and right up your alley!


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