Jackie’s family moved from California to a tiny town in Missouri to live with her mom’s brother and his family on a farm. Her cousin, Marcus, is her age and he has several younger siblings. Jackie’s dad is a lawyer, so he does occasional work for other farmers in town, but mostly they all work on the farm. Jackie’s Aunt Shelly is a kook who seems to believe every single thing on the internet (well, she would, if they had the internet). Jackie and Marcus are thrown together all of the time, basically raising the kids, making meals for the entire family, working the farm, and taking care of the animals.
Apparently, a couple of years ago, when a group of them were playing truth or dare, someone dared Marcus to kiss Jackie. Months later, they discuss the incident and discover that they have feelings for each other. They decide to have a secret relationship and not get serious. They know they can’t ever really be together, so they draw the line at having sex.
Now, I know I wasn’t hallucinating when I read this, but early in the book, all four of the parents go out on a date night where it is revealed that the parents like to swing. They also like to make out with their partners in full view of their children, thinking that it was better to be open than to hide something (they’re kinda hippie-ish and Mom smoked a lot of pot back in the day). Of course the older children are grossed out by this. Other than this mention and a couple incidents of kissing, this plot point is not brought up again.
So already there are problems. On one hand, the parents have no boundaries with the kids; on the other, due to Aunt Shelly always looking for the bogeyman, there are lots of restrictions. The parents also expect a lot from Jackie and Marcus, treating them like adults – quasi parents, really. They are also completely oblivious to anything going on between Jackie and Marcus.
There’s a push/pull between Jackie and Marcus because Jackie really thinks they need to stop before someone finds out and Marcus feels guilty about dragging her into this relationship. Then a new girls moves to town, and she is obviously interested in Marcus. Of course, Jackie is jealous. Then Claire, Jackie’s sister who is away at college, discovers their secret.
This is almost the entire plot through the book. Unfortunately, while the actual mystery (oh didn’t I tell you? One of Jackie’s best friends disappeared a few months back) is much more compelling, it gets relegated to the way back while we read about Jackie’s jealousy, Marcus becoming distant, the on again/off again, etc. etc. There’s a brief relationship for Jackie that made me roll my eyes so hard I thought they got stuck.
And when bad things happen in the town, it feels a bit like the Keystone Cops are in charge. (I am unable to determine whether this is something true about small towns or not.)
To be quite frank, while the sexual encounters between these two were probably no more explicit than some others I have read, I felt weird about reading them, like I was spying on something illicit and wrong. And even though, according to the book (I wasn’t going to Google it) half of the US states allow first cousins to get married (California! Who knew?), I still got the heebie jeebies.
It’s not only the cousin relationship that bothers me, but the “we can’t be together, but I don’t want to see you with anyone else.” The “he got over me so fast.” They are so completely and utterly immature. As an adult, I know they have to widen their horizons. You know the minute they went anywhere else, like college or backpacking across Europe, their views would most likely change. This book is a teen’s wish of what would happen IRL.
The book would have been much improved if it had been two, separating the mystery of the friend from the dating game portion. There didn’t seem to be much point that they were together. (Spoiler!)
How We Fall by Kate Brauning was published November 3, 2014 by Merit Press. A free copy of this book was given to Ink and Page in return for an honest review. Big thanks to the Publisher and the Author.
Genre: Young Adult Fiction Contemporary Mystery Romance
Ages: 13 and up