Review: Falling Together, Marisa de los Santos

I love Marisa de los Santos, LOVE HER. Love Walked In and Belong to Me were two books I didn’t expect to like but have become regulars in my permanent rotation of books that captivate me no matter how many times I reread them (the Harriet Vane books also feature prominently, along with I Capture the Castle and The Chosen). As you may imagine, I was thrilled to hear that she was writing a new book. I wrote a begging letter to HarperCollins asking for a review copy, and they obliged. I shrieked out loud with joy when my book arrived, and I started reading it straight away.

(Stop me if you’ve heard this one.) I was a little disappointed.

Let me back up. The protagonist of Falling Together is Pen, a single mother of a five-year-old daughter, Augusta. Pen is still grieving the two-years-past death of her father, and she lives with her brother since the collapse of her relationship with Augusta’s father. She has never stopped missing her college friends Will and Cat; their unbreakable friendship trio broke up for unspecified reasons, and she hasn’t seen them since. When she receives an email from Cat asking her to come to their college reunion, she leaps at the opportunity. Off somewhere else in the country (I forget where), Will does likewise.

The source of my disappointment was not that the writing was worse than in previous books, because it wasn’t. Marisa de los Santos is a lovely writer. She doesn’t overwrite, it’s not showy, but she writes in such a way that I am conscious, while reading, that I am enjoying her writing style. She has, also, a gift for capturing the magic in everyday moments without lapsing into the realm of the saccharine. These are all reasons that I would not necessarily have minded the paper-thin plot, which felt more like an excuse to put all her characters in the same room for extended periods of time, than a plot qua plot.

Actually, since I bring it up, it seemed like Marisa de los Santos was far more interested in the characters’ pasts than their presents, and that that was the book she was wanting to write, but instead she was writing this book. Cat is (um, spoilers, I guess?) absent for most of the book, and even though it’s clear that Pen and Will are crazy about her, and Marisa de los Santos is crazy about her, I never got to be, because I hardly saw her. It was hard to be invested in her, and hard to buy into the strength of the other characters’ investment. There was a lot of talk about how important these three people all were to each other, but I couldn’t see it in their personalities, the way I could with Cordelia and Teo in Love Walked In, or Cordelia and Clare in Belong to Me.

But the real source of my disappointment was this: I loved how self-aware Cordelia was in the other two books. That is a trait I really admire, and I thought Cordelia was exceptionally self-aware and thus pleasant to spend time with. Pen did not really possess that trait. The other characters spent a lot of time telling her what she was like, and, you know, I believe them because they know her, but I didn’t get that excellent click of recognition that happens when Flavian yells at Christopher in The Lives of Christopher Chant. I never felt like I knew her, so it was hard for me to sympathize when she felt sorry for herself. Which is, like, A LOT. A LOT of the time. I spent a lot of the book wishing she would put on her big girl panties and deal with it.

Hence, one of the primary joys of reading Marisa de los Santos, which is her ability to stick the landing in moments of high emotion, was not present when reading Falling Together. I direct you instead to Love Walked In and Belong to Me, inveterate emotional-moment landing-stickers, and then we can all settle down together to wait for Marisa de los Santos’s next book, which I faithfully believe will be awesome once more.

Thanks to HarperCollins for sending me this book for review!