Angel Falls by Babette De Jongh

All you really need to do to get me to give a contemporary a shot is put some pointe shoes on the cover.

Casey Alexander was a ballerina in New York, but after an injury ends her career, she goes home to her small hometown of Angel Falls, Alabama, to take over the local ballet school. Back in that hometown is her former best friend Melody, who is married to Casey’s former high school boyfriend Ben (these facts are related), but also the new owner of the local newspaper, a Scottish dude named Ian.  When Melody dies in a car accident, the question of “new hotness” and “old flame” raises its head.

I liked the ballet stuff, but some of it is kind of perfunctory. Casey has already coped with the disappointment of no longer being able to dance professionally, so she’s already resigned to her new life. She doesn’t need to get students, either: there’s a closing school that she just takes over, more or less. But the descriptions of classes and how Casey adjusts her teaching technique from the preschoolers to the advanced students is well done.

So one issue is that this is written in first person from Casey’s point of view. I don’t have the knee jerk “DO NOT WANT” that I know a lot of people have – it’s a tool like any other. I do think that it doesn’t work as well in Romance because it makes it difficult to develop the two main characters equally. I know a lot about what makes Casey work. Ian is still pretty much a cypher. I know a bit about his history, but not much about his motivations. Who is he, besides a Scot with a tragic backstory? I honestly don’t know. I think first person can work, but a lot of attention and work needs to be done to make sure both people get enough development and attention, and it wasn’t done here.

The bigger issue, though, is how trauma is handled.

Show Spoiler
Casey is in the car accident that kills Melody, and was the only other person there when Melody died, with Melody begging Casey to take care of her kids and “be there” for Ben. Casey was RIGHT THERE attempting CPR and while she’s pretty messed up by the experience, she never talks about it to anyone. She never tells anyone this guilt trip of a dying wish, even when it’s messing with her life, and there’s no suggestion that maybe some therapy would be a good idea. Melody died violently! This is someone she’d had a long and complicated history with!

No one should have to cope with that alone! No one!

Even beyond all of that, Casey is a doormat. She knows she’s a doormat. She keeps thinking, “God, I’m being a doormat not saying no when Ben keeps asking me to interrupt my life because he can’t be arsed to pick the kids up” but she never does anything. Knowing what you’re doing wrong and figuring out how to stop it are different tools. Again, I suggest therapy. Come on, girl! You made it in an NYC ballet company! You refurbished your dance studio with your bare hands! You can stand up to this guy and to the ghost of your friend. Really.

Nor is there any mention of getting Melody’s three kids into therapy. The youngest is in pre-school, and NO ONE explains to her that her mother is dead. She keeps saying, “When Mommy comes home…” and no one sits her down with the Sesame Street episode when Mr. Hooper dies to explain what happened. And Ben, Melody’s husband? He just shunts all the responsibility for the kids on Casey and Melody’s parents and everyone is like “Well, he’ll figure out how to cook and shit eventually or something.” Like, GET A BLUE APRON SUBSCRIPTION, DUDE. AND SOME THERAPY FOR YOURSELF.

Everyone in this family could use some support. This town is clearly fucked up enough to support a couple of counselors, and they could make BANK.

Yeah, I think I scared my neighbors last night when I was yelling, “OH MY GOD GET YOU SOME THERAPY” but really the biggest structural problem is Ian. I don’t know what makes him tick. He has an affinity for black linen shirts, uses the word “lass” a lot, and has a huge dick. He runs newspapers, but isn’t a journalist. I’m not entirely certain what Casey sees in him except that he’s hot and wants to get with her. And he likes her dog. I mean, that’s important; I don’t want to discount the importance of “I like you, you like my dog.” I just need more about his inner life.  Who are you, dude? WHO ARE YOU?

This is the first book in a series about the town of Angel Falls, and I see some potential continuing through-lines about specific places, but I have no idea who the other books might be about (although I suspect that Ben is an option – the tragic widower who can barely cook and his three adorable children? Who can resist?).

There’s a lot of potential in this series and in the characters, but there needs to be a lot more development and consistency. I get why people write in first person, but when a hero and a heroine need to be developed, first person REALLY needs to work hard. REALLY hard. And it didn’t work so well here.

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