Hi, my name is Kelly, and I’m addicted to underworlds.
And it’s the fantastic realm of “Under” that, for me, was the best part of Falling Under. Gwen Hayes uses several tropes that have become overused in YA paranormal romance, but the book is better written than many of its peers, and Hayes’ creativity bursts out of the bounds of the formula every time she shows us a scene from Under.
At first, this feels like a lot of books we’ve read before. Reserved, virginal Theia meets a mysterious boy, Haden, at her high school. They’re assigned to work as partners in class. Haden tries to protect Theia from his dark secret, alternating between treating her coldly and being a control freak. When, finally, he withdraws from her life in a last-ditch effort to save her, Theia resorts to self-destructive measures to see him again. [Spoiler, here, highlight if you want to read it:] Sleeping pills, in a scene that chilled me more than any underworld beastie in the book.[End Spoiler]
An additional issue is Theia’s father who, we are told, is stiflingly overprotective. Many YA characters have neglectful parents who conveniently evaporate so their kids can have their adventures unimpeded. Having an overprotective parent struck me as a refreshing change, not to mention more relatable for me based on my own personal experience! I thought the dream sequences — more about those later — were a clever way for Hayes to give Theia adventures even though she was restricted in the real world. Unfortunately, though, Theia’s father does vanish for much of the book and seems more akin to the usual absent parents than he’s meant to be. I know about overprotective fathers, and it doesn’t seem realistic that he would go on a business trip and leave her in the house alone. He’d take her along, or else bring in Auntie Horrible to babysit.
But when I was frustrated with the first half of Falling Under, the dream sequences kept me reading. Theia visits a strange place in her dreams, one that’s both beautiful and nightmarish, and where her relationship with Haden is rather different from the one that exists in the waking world. Later, when Theia is taken bodily into Under, it makes for terrific reading. It’s as if Twilight suddenly turned into Pan’s Labyrinth. Creepy, yet filled with strange beauty, Under is incredibly compelling.
The other great part about Falling Under is the friendships. The bond between Theia and her quirky friends, which later includes several endearing guys as well, is wonderful. Nowhere is this more evident than in the most un-clichéd prom scene I’ve read in YA literature. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but what happens is way more interesting than the stereotypical scene where it’s an enchanted evening and the protagonists get to feel like princes and princesses for a few hours. (And really, how many of us really had proms that lived up to that fantasy anyway?)
I also liked seeing Theia finally develop a backbone, though it’s a little bothersome that it only happens when a guy enters her life. I can deal with that, though, since one of the people she learns to stand up to is Haden himself.
The latter half of Falling Under is enjoyable enough that I very nearly gave the book a fourth star — but in the end decided I was too disturbed by the scene mentioned above in spoiler text; I felt it was romanticized too much. I do look forward to reading more of Gwen Hayes’s books in the future, and can’t wait to see more of Under.