Falling In

Falling In

3.9 49
by Frances O'Roark Dowell
     
 

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There are some people in this world who are a little more aware, a little more in tune with what’s happening around them. Isabelle Bean is one of those people, and when she sits in her regular, average classroom, listening to an odd buzzing sound and feeling as if she is teetering on the edge of the universe...she is not too far from the truth.

 
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Overview

There are some people in this world who are a little more aware, a little more in tune with what’s happening around them. Isabelle Bean is one of those people, and when she sits in her regular, average classroom, listening to an odd buzzing sound and feeling as if she is teetering on the edge of the universe...she is not too far from the truth.

 

Like Alice falling through the looking glass, Isabelle soon finds herself in a parallel universe, where she’s mistaken for a witch, then finds out that her grandmother is a witch, then finds out she isn’t, but no one believes her, which is the whole reason Isabelle has tumbled into this world—to straighten everyone out on the witch and non-witch business. Oh, and to find a true friend. Dowell’s fantasy debut is, yes indeed, entrancing.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dowell’s (Shooting the Moon) first fantasy novel features sixth-grader Isabelle Bean, an unconventional protagonist who prefers thrift stores to malls and demonstrates an “impressive talent for irritating teachers.” Isabelle’s adventure begins in the school nurse’s office, where she discovers an entrance into another world and meets a group of children fleeing from a witch. As fate would have it, the “witch”—mistreated and misunderstood by villagers—turns out to be Isabelle’s biological grandmother. Much of the novel focuses on the healing powers and sad history of Isabelle’s grandmother and Isabelle’s effort to set the record straight. Readers may be amused by the narrator’s digressions, backtracking, direct addresses (“You want me to tell you where Isabelle is, don’t you? You want me to spell it out for you, draw you a map, paint a picture. Well, I’m not going to do it”), and impish tone, though it can feel a bit forced. Perhaps too many facts are left to the imagination: how Isabelle has changed and what she has gained from her experiences remain questionable at the end of the book. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)
Booklist
Feeling like a changeling in her own world, sixth-grader Isabelle Bean falls into another, where she meets her healer grandmother, Grete, and corrects a misunderstanding that had terrorized generations of children. Although it uses traditional tropes and the faintly medieval setting of much of children's fantasy, this perfectly paced story has enough realistic elements to appeal even to nonfantasy readers. The plot centers on Isabelle's efforts to convince the other world's children that her grandmother is not a wicked witch. This task is complicated but ultimately accomplished by Grete's accidental poisoning at the hands of a small boy. The storyteller's voice is evidenced by the opening line ("On the morning this story begins") and occasionally interrupts the narrative with explanation and rumination. The decidedly opinionated narrator's privileged stance lends a sense of directness and immediacy to the telling, and the adult perspective allows for more complex language and deeper understanding. Dreamy and distractible, Isabelle is an appealing protagonist whose newfound gift for hearing calls for help reflects how she has grown up enough to see beyond herself. Like Isabelle, her story has that "barely visible edge of otherworldliness" that gives it power.
—Kathleen Isaacs
Kirkus Reviews
A master at capturing the emotional lives of modern kids in realistic fiction proves equally adept with fantasy. When sixth-grader Isabelle Bean, the kind of "girl who is as silent as a weed," falls through the floor of a supply closet into what is clearly a fantasy land, she arrives during "the witch's season," when all the children of the Five Villages hide in makeshift camps to avoid being eaten. Isabelle, however, thinks that a witch might be interesting, so she heads south instead of north, picking up the girl Hen, who is straggling behind her village's evacuation, along the way. Soon they bump into Grete, an old woman who lives alone in the woods and who takes them in, teaching them herbal lore and healing. Here, the beguilingly crotchety intrusive narrator suggests readers might want a refund for the lack of excitement, but... The fledgling fantasist produces surprises, despair, reunions and hope, all with a deft, playful touch and the ability to deliver breathtakingly penetrating insights perfectly pitched to her audience. Dowell spreads her wings and soars. (Magical adventure. 10-14)
From the Publisher
Dowell’s (Shooting the Moon) first fantasy novel features sixth-grader Isabelle Bean, an unconventional protagonist who prefers thrift stores to malls and demonstrates an “impressive talent for irritating teachers.” Isabelle’s adventure begins in the school nurse’s office, where she discovers an entrance into another world and meets a group of children fleeing from a witch. As fate would have it, the “witch”—mistreated and misunderstood by villagers—turns out to be Isabelle’s biological grandmother. Much of the novel focuses on the healing powers and sad history of Isabelle’s grandmother and Isabelle’s effort to set the record straight. Readers may be amused by the narrator’s digressions, backtracking, direct addresses (“You want me to tell you where Isabelle is, don’t you? You want me to spell it out for you, draw you a map, paint a picture. Well, I’m not going to do it”), and impish tone, though it can feel a bit forced. Perhaps too many facts are left to the imagination: how Isabelle has changed and what she has gained from her experiences remain questionable at the end of the book. Ages 8–12.

Publishers Weekly (Mar.)

Feeling like a changeling in her own world, sixth-grader Isabelle Bean falls into another, where she meets her healer grandmother, Grete, and corrects a misunderstanding that had terrorized generations of children. Although it uses traditional tropes and the faintly medieval setting of much of children's fantasy, this perfectly paced story has enough realistic elements to appeal even to nonfantasy readers. The plot centers on Isabelle's efforts to convince the other world's children that her grandmother is not a wicked witch. This task is complicated but ultimately accomplished by Grete's accidental poisoning at the hands of a small boy. The storyteller's voice is evidenced by the opening line ("On the morning this story begins") and occasionally interrupts the narrative with explanation and rumination. The decidedly opinionated narrator's privileged stance lends a sense of directness and immediacy to the telling, and the adult perspective allows for more complex language and deeper understanding. Dreamy and distractible, Isabelle is an appealing protagonist whose newfound gift for hearing calls for help reflects how she has grown up enough to see beyond herself. Like Isabelle, her story has that "barely visible edge of otherworldliness" that gives it power. Kathleen Isaacs - Booklist STARRED REVIEW

Isabelle Bean has no friends since her classmates consider her weird and even scary. She prefers thrift shops to the mall and dresses in whatever she feels like at the moment. One day, sitting in class concentrating on a strange buzzing sound, she is sent to the principal’s office for not paying attention. She opens the door to a supply closet and is plunged into a fairy-talelike world in an alternate universe. She encounters children traveling to the “camps” to avoid being eaten by the Witch of the Woods and meets Hen, and they set out on their own in the opposite direction. Arriving at a cozy cottage, the girls are welcomed by Grete, an elderly woman who uses plants to heal. Isabelle learns that Grete is her grandmother and that she may be the “witch” the people have been taught to fear. Armed with only her determination and intuitive nature, Isabelle marches off to the camps to dispel the rumor of the witch. It is here the plot thickens as Dowell offers twists, turns, and a tragic near-death. Throughout the book she addresses readers directly as though she is telling the story to them. Isabelle’s adventures come to a satisfying conclusion as she “falls out” of her school closet a little wiser and maybe a bit more likely to make a friend, and she reminds readers to just believe that “the doors are out there. Don’t be afraid to turn the knob.”SLJ, April 1, 2010

A master at capturing the emotional lives of modern kids in realistic fiction proves equally adept with fantasy. When sixth-grader Isabelle Bean, the kind of “girl who is as silent as a weed,” falls through the floor of a supply closet into what is clearly a fantasy land, she arrives during “the witch’s season,” when all the children of the Five Villages hide in makeshift camps to avoid being eaten. Isabelle, however, thinks that a witch might be interesting, so she heads south instead of north, picking up the girl Hen, who is straggling behind her village’s evacuation, along the way. Soon they bump into Grete, an old woman who lives alone in the woods and who takes them in, teaches them herbal lore and healing. Here, the beguiling crotchety intrusive narrator suggests readers might want a refund for the lack of excitement, but… The fledgling fantasist produces surprises, despair, reunions and hope, all with a deft, playful touch and the ability to deliver breathtakingly penetrating insights perfectly pitched for her audience. Dowell spreads her wings and soars. Kirkus, starred review

Tamara Fyke
Things are not always what they seem. A closet door in the nurse's room leads to another world discovered by Isabelle Bean, an outcast at her middle school. Determined to find the witch who terrorizes the enchanted land, Isabelle begins her journey. Along the way, she meets a best friend, the only friend she's ever really had. Together they encounter a kindly old woman who teaches them the healing arts. When the old woman tells her story, Isabelle figures out that the woman is both the supposed witch and her unknown grandmother. Isabelle must battle her presuppositions in order to complete the quest her grandmother gives her: tell the children of the land the truth so they no longer live in fear. Dowell gently challenges her readers to examine personal beliefs that lead to false judgments. Reviewer: Tamara Fyke
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Isabelle Bean, 12, has always felt different from everyone else and has no friends. One day, on the way to the principal's office, she opens a door and falls into an alternative universe hundreds of years behind her own. She learns that a witch is terrifying the children of the County of the Five Villages. She meets Hen, and with her first friend in years, travels to find the witch. Hen hopes to destroy her, while Isabelle is just curious about the witch. When they come to a cottage, the girls meet Grete, a female apothecary, with secrets of her own. Grete needs Isabelle's help in fixing the past and future. Along the way, Isabelle learns about dealing with loneliness by making friends and being true to family. Frances O'Roarke Dowell's novel (Atheneum, 2010) balances the fantasy world with the real world. Jessica Almasy's wonderful storytelling ability captures the inquisitive nature of Isabelle and gives the village children old-style English accents. The text's humor, combined with the cleverness of the interactive format of asking listeners questions, makes this a fun listen.—Sarah Flood, Breckinridge County Public Library, Hardinsburg, KY

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416999027
Publisher:
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
03/02/2010
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
542,726
Lexile:
850L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


1

On the morning this story begins, Isabelle Bean was convinced she was teetering on the edge of the universe. Which is why, instead of copying spelling words off the board as instructed by Mrs. Sharpe, she had her ear pressed to her desk. All morning a strange sensation had buzzed along her fingers every time she’d put her pencil to a piece of paper, and by the time spelling period had come around, she had determined that the buzzing was coming up from the floor, through the desk’s legs, and up to the desktop.

She closed her eyes in order to concentrate more fully on the buzzing. It was like the buzz that a house makes when it thinks no one’s home—the refrigerator humming a little tune, the computer purring in the corner, cable lines wheezing softly as they snake through the walls and underneath the floorboards.

Being a careful listener from way back, Isabelle knew this wasn’t the school buzzing. Elliot P. Hangdale Middle School never buzzed. In the mornings it rumbled and moaned as the children settled themselves into their desks and teachers cleared their throats, and in the quiet of the afternoon, students, janitors, and administrative assistants dozing off in every corner, it emitted a low-pitched whine, as though begging someone to bring it a glass of water.

So if it wasn’t the school that was causing Isabelle’s ear to tingle, then what? Isabelle felt if she could just hold her head still enough, for just a few seconds more, the answer would rise up from the floor and deposit itself into her brain, and maybe, finally, the floor would open up beneath her and she would fall into a far more interesting place than Mrs. Thalia Sharpe’s sixth-grade classroom.

“Isabelle Bean, I’ve asked you a question! What is your answer, please?”

Isabelle’s head jerked up and snapped back so violently she was surprised it didn’t fly straight off her neck. Mrs. Sharpe’s squeal of a voice always had this effect on her various limbs and appendages, as though Isabelle were a puppet and Mrs. Sharpe’s high-pitched voice her master. Fortunately for Isabelle, Mrs. Sharpe’s general inclination was to ignore her, but even Mrs. Sharpe couldn’t ignore what appeared to be blatant napping.

“And your answer is?” Mrs. Sharpe drummed her fingers against her desk to demonstrate her impatience.

“One hundred ninety-seven?” Isabelle guessed, remembering a moment too late that it was spelling period, not math.

Her classmates twittered and giggled. One boy in particular, Ferguson Morse, was especially tickled by Isabelle’s answer, and when Ferguson was tickled he began to hiccup violently. Ferguson’s hiccups caused Monroe Lark to laugh so hard he rolled out of his chair and into the middle of the aisle. Within seconds, the class was in a complete uproar.

“Isabelle Bean!” Mrs. Sharpe bellowed from the front of the classroom, pointing a finger violently toward the door. “To the principal’s office!”

Isabelle sighed a feather-brush sort of a sigh. Why always the same old thing? Couldn’t Mrs. Sharpe come up with something more original? Why not shoot Isabelle out of a cannon, send her flying over the top of the playground’s monkey bars? Why not enlist her in the Foreign Legion and deport her to deepest, darkest France?

That was the problem with adults, Isabelle thought sadly as she stood and brushed a few eraser crumbs from her lap. They lacked originality. Why, just this morning over breakfast her mother had made the most hopelessly boring suggestion that she and Isabelle should go shopping this weekend. “Janice Tribble told me there was a big sale at the mall,” her mother had said, reaching across the table for the jam jar. “Twenty percent off everything at the Junior Wear Jamboree.”

“You want me to go to the mall?” Isabelle could hardly believe it. The mall? Home of dreary raincoats and unnecessary sportswear? Capital of cinnamon buns that smelled wonderful, but tasted like sponges left for months under the sink? The very thought made Isabelle want to lie down and go to sleep for a hundred years.

“People do it all the time, Isabelle,” her mother said in a weary voice, a V of disappointment or worry or sadness (or some heavyhearted combination of all three) appearing between her eyes. “It’s quite a convenient way to purchase clothing.”

“I’ve decided to make all my clothes from now on,” Isabelle reported. The idea had burst into her head that very second, the way ideas did all the time—ideas like little constellations of sparks and light and bright colors—and she immediately liked it. So what if she didn’t exactly know how to sew? So what if she had the dexterity of a webbed-toed walrus? Why should that stop her?

“Izzy, you can’t even—,” her mother started, then stopped. She studied the jam jar (boysenberry, Isabelle’s favorite), then carefully dolloped a blob onto her toast and spread it with the back of her spoon before cutting the toast into four little triangles. As she lifted a triangle to her mouth and began nibbling on a corner, a splotch of jam dropped on her chin, and Isabelle thought about reaching across the table to dab at it with her napkin, but decided she liked how the blob of jam looked. Like a beauty mark, she thought.

“I just remembered that I’m allergic to the mall,” Isabelle said after a few moments of her mother’s chewing. “But if you really want to go shopping, maybe we could go to a thrift store. That could be fun, don’t you think?”

Mrs. Bean grimaced. “Hand-me-down clothes. I wore them my whole childhood. They smell like attics and old people snoring.”

“Sometimes they do,” Isabelle agreed. “But sometimes they don’t. Besides, you can always wash them.”

“The smell never goes away, no matter how many washings,” Mrs. Bean said, tucking the last bit of toast in her mouth. Picking up her plate, she stood to go into the kitchen, then paused and looked back at Isabelle, her face brightening. “How about catalogs? We could order you some new things from catalogs.”

Oh, what was the use? Isabelle nodded at her mother. “Sure, maybe we could do that.”

Grown-ups, she thought as she grabbed her backpack to go meet the bus. The mall! Catalogs! Why couldn’t they ever do something the slightest bit unusual? Unexpected?

Laziness, maybe. Or lack of imagination.

That was it: Lack of imagination.

Sometimes Isabelle dreaded growing up.

The path to Vice Principal Closky’s office was a familiar route. Over the years Isabelle had demonstrated an impressive talent for irritating teachers to the extremes of their patience. It wasn’t something she set out to do. In fact, she never quite understood what she did to raise her teachers’ blood pressure to such dangerous levels. Neither did her teachers, and this irritated them even more. Teacher’s college had equipped them to handle nose pickers, fire starters, back talkers, hitters, biters, and whiners. But quiet girls who weren’t shy, girls who talked in riddles but were never actually rude, girls who simply refused to comb those confounded bangs out of their eyes, well, girls like that were beyond them.

Isabelle slowed to admire the latest crop of fifth-grader artwork hanging on the wall between Ms. Palmer and Mr. Wren’s classrooms and took a moment to peer into the cafeteria, which seemed to her a more cheerful place at nine thirty in the morning than when it was overtaken by screaming kids and yellow trays still steaming from the dishwasher. Reaching the door to Vice Principal Closky’s outer office, she decided a short rest was in order. She enjoyed her visits with the vice principal, but resting now would serve in the long run to delay her return to Mrs. Sharpe’s classroom.

The hallway’s gray linoleum felt cool beneath her legs, which Isabelle had stretched out in front of her so she could examine her boots. She’d found them the day before in a pile of junk set out for the garbage collectors. Isabelle couldn’t resist picking through roadside junk, much to her mother’s dismay. She’d made loads of good finds over the years, including a bike with a bent tire that had only taken two good thwacks of a hammer to restore to its proper alignment, and a goldfish, still very much alive, swimming in a goldfish bowl. Although her mother had a strict no-pets policy, Isabelle had been able to effectively argue that fish weren’t pets, since you couldn’t actually pet them.

The boots had been stuffed under the cushion of a crumbling Barcalounger. They were women’s red leather lace-up boots, shiny and new-looking, flat heeled with surprisingly pointy toes. Isabelle’s feet had grown two sizes over the past summer, and the boots fit her nicely once she’d stuffed some toilet paper in them. And while it would be hard to argue that they in any way matched her current outfit of a hooded gray sweater and loose jeans, Isabelle felt that her boots somehow completed her.

She looked up when she heard giggling voices floating down the hallway. Two girls in gym suits walked toward her—or rather, one was walking and the other was limping, her arm flung around the other girl’s shoulder as if to steady herself. Isabelle recognized the limping girl as Charley Bender.

If you had to see somebody in the hallway, Charley Bender wasn’t so bad, Isabelle supposed. She wasn’t exactly Isabelle’s cup of tea, but she was okay for the kind of girl who was usually picked third or fourth for games in PE, who stuttered a bit at the beginning of class presentations but calmed down after a minute or two and was only halfway boring on the topic of the Major Domestic Imports of Southern Lithuania.

But Isabelle had noticed that Charley Bender was one of the few people at school who said hello to Morris Kranhopf, a boy who had to wear a shoe with a special raised heel, because his left leg was shorter than his right. And so she guessed that Charley was decent for someone who was as average as an apricot.

(Were apricots average? Isabelle wondered. Better make that apples. Or acorns.)

“Is the nurse in?” Charley called to her, as though Isabelle were the receptionist. “I need her to wrap up my ankle. Gopher hole.”

“Gopher hole what?” Isabelle asked. “Gopher hole who?”

“She stepped in a gopher hole, birdbrain,” Charley’s helper said. “She’s lucky she didn’t break her ankle.”

Lucky, Isabelle mouthed to herself. Now that was the truth. Girls like Charley Bender were usually lucky, in her experience. Why was that? Where other people would have broken five bones in their foot, the Charley Benders of the world only twisted their ankle. They were forever reaching the doorway just as the rain began to pour from the sky, or jumping onto the curb only seconds before the speeding car rounded the corner. What fairies stood over the cradle and cast their lucky spells the day Charley Bender was born?

“So, have you seen the nurse?” Charley asked again.

“I’m not here to see the nurse,” Isabelle replied.

Charley sighed. “Maybe I’ll just check for myself.” She poked her head into the doorway one door down from the principal’s office.

“Is she there?” her friend asked. “Because Mr. Lasso said I had to get right back to class, but I guess I could wait with you if the nurse isn’t there.”

“Not there,” Charley reported. “But I can wait by myself. I don’t mind.”

Not needing any further encouragement, her friend turned and trotted back down the hallway. Charley Bender disappeared into the nurse’s office, and Isabelle resumed admiring her red boots.

A sudden squeak followed by a piercing squeal punctured Isabelle’s reveries. Both noises came from the nurse’s office. Isabelle was sure the squeal had issued forth from the mouth of Charley Bender, but where had the squeak come from?

Intrigued, she decided to investigate.

© 2010 Frances O’Roark Dowell

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