4.4 5
by Ariela Anhalt, Fred Berman

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That’s what everyone wants to know. The kids at the exclusive boarding school Briar Academy can’t stop talking about how three students went up to the cliff—but only two came back alive. Was it a hazing ritual gone awry? Or was it something more sinister?

The police want to know—because Hayden Applegate, Briar’s big man on campus, may


That’s what everyone wants to know. The kids at the exclusive boarding school Briar Academy can’t stop talking about how three students went up to the cliff—but only two came back alive. Was it a hazing ritual gone awry? Or was it something more sinister?

The police want to know—because Hayden Applegate, Briar’s big man on campus, may be on the hook for murder. His best friend, Luke Prescott, is the only witness to what happened on the cliff.

And Luke wants to know what was going through Hayden’s mind that terrible night. Did he mean to do what he did? Luke struggles to figure it out before the time comes for him to testify at the trial. He has always followed Hayden’s lead, but this is one decision he’ll be forced to make on his own. And to do it, Luke must face unsettling truths about his friendship with Hayden, and his own troubled past.

Debut author Ariela Anhalt crafts a suspenseful and scandalous tale of peer pressure, fierce rivalries, and twisted loyalties.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Anhalt’s debut is a plainly written, thoroughly suspenseful tragedy set at the elite Briar Academy in California. Seniors Luke and Hayden are best friends, roommates, opposites (Luke is insecure, Hayden self-assured), and members of the varsity fencing team (“If you got caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing, Luke figured, Hayden was the guy you wanted with you”). When self-important Russell joins the school, shows up the fencing team, and (eventually) steals Hayden’s girlfriend, Hayden’s anger takes over and his behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Russell’s initiation for the fencing team—jumping off a cliff into Briar Lake—ends in his death on the rocks below, and Hayden winds up on trial for premeditated murder. Luke is the only eyewitness and, struggling under pressure from Hayden, his friends, lawyers, the police, and the aftereffects of a past trauma in his own life, he attempts to answer one impossible question: was it a murder or an accident? The plot is straightforward, but the high stakes, complex character development, and realistic dialogue and interactions will keep readers riveted—and likely have them imagining themselves in Luke’s position. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)
VOYA - Robbie L. Flowers
Truth is a relative experience. Sometimes vantage point is the deciding factor in whether something is true. No one knows this fact better than Luke. He witnessed a fatal fall that left a new member of his school's fencing team dead. Problem is, it was his best friend's hand that gave the fatal push to the boy who died on the rocks below a cliff. Luke is torn. Hayden is the popular kid who has given Luke a name among their peers. Hayden exudes wealth and all the trappings, but more important, Hayden is someone who cared about Luke when he had no one. Then along comes Russell—the new kid with something to prove—and he is locked in a bitter war with Hayden. What is Luke to do? He does not care for Russell, but he is not so confident that Hayden is doing the right thing by making Russell's life at Briar Academy less than stellar. Luke is ill prepared for the events that spiral downward leading to Russell's death. He is even less prepared to be launched into a case being built against his best friend. Readers will wonder right up until the end if Luke will do the right thing and even call to question what is the right thing from Luke's perspective. Teens will love this title because it is full of page-turning events and is difficult to put down. It is an essential purchase for any public or school library that serves teens. Reviewer: Robbie L. Flowers
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Devastated since his father's suicide, milquetoast Luke Prescott lets Briar Academy's golden boy, Hayden Applegate, dictate their friendship. Luke echoes Hayden's superior attitude and enables his poor treatment of others. When Russell, a transfer student, starts chipping away at Hayden's power base, Luke watches the rivalry grow more intense. Then drug-addled Hayden crashes a car into a tree, injuring one of their fencing teammates and freeing a spot on the team for Russell. Hayden volunteers to lead Russell's initiation to the team—a cliff dive into a small lake—and Luke reluctantly accompanies them on the ill-fated outing. Anhalt's accurate diction and sense of pace propel readers through Luke's indecision and numbness, which become tiresome. Interpersonal relationships are well realized, however, especially Luke's sputtering romance and friendship with Rachel. Though the adults in the narrative are mere tokens of responsibility, their weaknesses don't impact the overall plot. Teens will appreciate the action and the drama, without being overwhelmed by trendy names and labels as in other books set in boarding schools. Luke's witness-stand epiphany is heavy-handed, but Anhalt, a college sophomore, shows great promise in this debut novel.—Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
A hazing ritual at the elite Briar Academy goes horribly wrong, leaving Luke Prescott to figure out what really happened. Did Russell Conrad fall from the cliff to his death, or was he pushed? Luke's best friend, Hayden Applegate, is now in jail, and Luke will soon be called to testify as the only (he thinks) eyewitness. Anhalt seems to know the boarding-school world well, creating a rich setting for this drama of family demons, school friends and rivals, and an anguishing struggle of conscience. The third-person point of view provides a necessary distance from the protagonist, keeping the story from becoming claustrophobically wrapped in Luke's troubled psyche, and the italicized interior monologue effectively juxtaposes Luke's thoughts with his spoken words, often at odds with each other. The final courtroom scene is riveting, as Luke struggles to finally do the right thing and take control of his life. An unusually rich and layered first novel. (Fiction. 14 & up)
From the Publisher
“Nineteen-year-old Anhalt displays some definite polish in her debut novel…Teens drawn to boarding-school-scandal dramas will find plenty to gasp about here.”—Booklist
"Anhalt seems to know the boarding-school world well, creating a rich setting for this drama of family demons, school friends and rivals, and an anguishing struggle of conscience. . . . An unusually rich and layered first novel."—Kirkus Reviews
"Teens will love this title because it is full of page-turning events and is difficult to put down."—VOYA, 5Q, 5P (highest rating)

"The high stakes, complex character development, and realistic dialogue and interactions will keep readers riveted—and likely have them imagining themselves in Luke’s position."—Publishers Weekly

"Teens will appreciate the action and the drama, without being overwhelmed by trendy names and labels as in other books set in boarding schools. . . . Anhalt, a college sophomore, shows great promise in this debut novel."—School Library Journal

"[There's] plenty of jealousy, drugs, and misplaced loyalty to keep the pot boiling."-Bulletin

Children's Literature - Stephanie R. Pearmain
Luke and Hayden are best friends and roommates at the Briar Academy, an exclusive boarding school. They lead the fencing team and are the popular guys in school. Hayden is the extrovert, the one who can talk his way out of anything. He's funny, charismatic and competitive, and of course, he dates the prettiest girl in the school—Nicole Johnston. Luke is much quieter and is haunted by his family issues, though he doesn't open up about these things to anyone, including Hayden. Luke finds solace in cliff diving at night into the blackness below. He must trust the water to welcome him even though he can't see it. Once he plunges in, the water envelopes him and temporarily comforts him. Almost immediately we are introduced to new arrival Russell Conrad. Russell is an extremely confident guy who is already flirting with Nicole. He is also a very good fencer. Russell joins the fencing team and immediately becomes the object of Hayden's anger and resentment. It is a ritual for new members of the fencing team to have to jump from the cliff into the lake at night. Luke doesn't want any part of taking Russell there but goes along with Hayden in hopes of keeping the peace. Something goes wrong and Russell either slips or is pushed from the cliff and Luke becomes the only witness in the case against his best friend for the murder of Russell. Luke replays the scene over and over and struggles to find himself in the midst of classmates shunning him and Hayden's attorney pressuring him to remember the night a certain way. Anhalt's writing is well paced and the tension is built in well. Luke's story feels real and does not succumb to a typical, feel good plot. Anhalt gives a good representation of the complexities of human relationships whether it is friendship, romance, or family interactions. Reviewer: Stephanie R. Pearmain
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
In this tension filled school drama, Anhalt mixes together fencing, a harsh social order, a new arrival at a prestigious boarding school, an initiation gone wrong, and a little romance on the side. The story revolves around the dominance of Hayden Applegate in the small, exclusive world of Briar Academy, and the lives of all those who enable him to maintain his bully position there. An unfortunate incident ends with newcomer and potential rival Russell Conrad getting pushed off a cliff to his death. No one is witness but Hayden's best friend Luke Prescott, and the reader—an interesting choice that impacts significantly on the ensuing story arc. Circling repeatedly back to flashbacks from earlier years and then to the moment on the cliff, Anhalt manages to bring into question Luke's memory of an incident to which the reader is also privy; in itself this is a commendable narrative sleight of hand. Luke's awkwardly touching relationship with Rachel tugs against a loyalty to Hayden. This allegiance, however, often feels unearned. Hayden is unrelentingly unpleasant and as a result, Luke's numbness and passivity in the second half of the book sometimes grow to be a little tiresome. A surfeit of adverbs, a few awkward choices of summary instead of scene, and some oddly placed interior monologue may trip some readers up. Still, for a debut novel by such a young author, Freefall is quite an accomplished work, filled with action and drama. Moments of pure surprise and emotional resonance suggest that this is a writer with promise. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
15 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Luke Prescott stood at the top of the cliff, his toes
curled over the edge and pointing downward. Back straight
and shoulders relaxed, he let his eyes close peacefully. And
he jumped.
 A rush of power surged over him. Luke never felt so much in
control as when there was none, when all that existed was Luke and
the air and the inevitable stop at the end. It was all up to him in
those moments. He had decided that he was going to jump and that
he was going to land in the water below, and there was absolutely
nothing and absolutely nobody that could stop him. He had all
the power.
 He hit the water with a splash that, months before, had
knocked the breath out of him. Now he merely succumbed to the
water, letting it close over his head, a stream of bubbles pouring
from his mouth and nose as his feet hit the sandy bottom and
pushed him to the top. His head broke through the surface of the
water, and the solid pounding in his eardrums subsided. He floated
on his back, eyes still closed.
 His peace was broken just as quickly as it had come over him.
“If you keep doing this, you’re gonna kill yourself.”
 Luke turned sharply and choked as he accidentally inhaled
what seemed to him like the entire contents of Briar Lake. He
coughed, twisted himself around, and began to tread water. He
looked up to meet the intruder’s eyes and smiled. “Hayden. What
are you doing here?”
 Hayden stood a few yards away on the bank. He was dressed in
his pajamas and a sweatshirt, and his feet were bare. At eighteen,
Hayden had the broad-shouldered body of a much older man and
the clever, round face of a boy. “I heard you leave,” Hayden said, giving
Luke a lopsided grin, his ice-blue eyes dancing beneath a mess
of dark hair. He reached out a hand to Luke, who paddled over to
the edge of the lake.
 “I’m fine,” Luke said, though the question hadn’t been asked.
He let Hayden help him out of the water and then collapsed
onto the bank. Stretching out on his back, his wet shorts clinging to
his skin, Luke shut his eyes again. It wasn’t the same. He opened
 “You should probably stop doing that,” Hayden said, nodding
toward the cliff. He shuffled his feet awkwardly in the dirt.
 Luke grunted noncommittally. I’m not hurting anyone, he thought.
 “I mean, it’s just kinda weird, Luke.”
 “Yeah, well, I’m kinda weird,” Luke said, propping himself up
on his elbows.
 “Trust me, dude, you’re more than kinda weird,” said Hayden,
squatting down next to Luke.
 “Oh, thanks.”
 Hayden grinned. “You know, I almost broke my nose trying to
get here. Tripped over a log, fell flat on my face. Naturally, I blame
you for this.”
 “Naturally,” Luke agreed.
 “Yep. Totally your fault.”
 “Of course.”
 “Couldn’t have just been me, you know,” Hayden said, leaning
conspiratorially toward Luke. “Because everyone knows I’m as
graceful as a fucking ballerina.”
 “So don’t let it happen again.”
 “Sorry, Hayden. I’ll try to do better next time.”
 “Great. So no more jumping off cliffs in the middle of the
night?” Hayden’s tone was suddenly serious.
 “Come on,” Luke said with a short laugh, giving his friend’s
shoulder a shove. Drop it, Hayden.
 “Come on, what?” said Hayden. “It’s pointless. Why do you
keep doing it?”
 Luke shrugged. “You wouldn’t get it.”
 “Try me.”
 I don’t want to. “Just let it go,” said Luke, annoyance creeping
into his voice.
 “Is this about—”
 “No. ”
 “Because if—”
 “I don’t want to talk about that,” Luke interrupted, louder
than he’d intended.
 “Okay. I’m sorry.” Hayden looked embarrassed.
 Luke sighed. “That has nothing to do with this. I just do this
to unwind, to relax.”
 Hayden stared at him. “You know, I’ve done it, remember? I’ve
jumped. And I wouldn’t exactly call it relaxing.”
 Luke remembered that night. It had been about a year ago. It
was the week before the first fencing meet of the season. He and
Hayden and about four other guys had just made varsity on the
Briar Academy fencing team. Briar Academy, one of the more elite
private schools in California, had many sports teams, but the fencers
were the only ones that ever really won anything. Making the team
was a pretty big deal.
 That night the new varsity members and one of the team captains
had gone up to the cliff to jump off. It was a sort of initiation
process for the team, and the experience of the jump was treated almost
with reverence by the fencers. It wasn’t hazing; it was ceremony.
 Luke dug his knuckles into the dirt. “I know you have.” He exhaled
loudly. “Look, I’m tired. Let’s head back.”
 “All right, whatever.” Hayden raised his hands defensively.
“Have it your way.” They both rose up off the bank. “Keep doing it.
Break your fucking skull for all I care,” Hayden mumbled as Luke
padded off to retrieve his clothes from the end of the bank.
 They had to sneak back into the dorm quietly so as not to wake
any of the resident teachers at the school, who did not particularly
like the idea of students wandering off in the middle of the night,
especially not off toward the lake. The wooded area around the lake
was not visible from the academy, so the students mainly snuck off
into the trees to smoke pot or hook up. The school itself was built
in a circle formation, with a large green and a commons area at the
center. Surrounding that were the dormitory buildings, and encircling
them were the academic buildings. The lake hugged the east
side of campus, and the woods stretched out from the north side.
Through the woods, a five-minute hike and a sharp right turn away,
was the cliff.
 Luke and Hayden managed to get back into their room unnoticed.
Each of the four dormitories had a resident teacher, but luckily
the one in Luke’s dorm was a particularly sound sleeper. Not that
it really would have mattered if they’d been caught; Hayden could
talk his way out of anything. He’d smile, crack a joke, make the
teacher laugh, and soon he’d be off on his way with simply a warning.
If you got caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing,
Luke figured, Hayden was the guy you wanted with you.

Meet the Author

ARIELA ANHALT is a 19-year-old sophomore at Dartmouth College. Freefall is her first novel.

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Freefall 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There was a lot of information in this book. Free fall is a very interesting book and I considering whoever buys this book. I like the beginning of the book when it was talking about how one of Luke friends jumps off the edge of the cliff and he had broken his head and every bone in his body when he landed on the hard rock and broken his skull. But far as everything else I considering of getting this book it is really cool.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Flamingnet More than 1 year ago
Basically, FREEFALL is about a high school boy named Luke. He's a fencer, not the best student, and is looking for a college that will accept him. A new boy shows up and isn't being very nice to Luke's best friend, Hayden. (He's a fencer too). But it turns out he's does fencing as well. At this school, there is an unofficial initiation ceremony. The new fencers have to jump of a cliff into the lake. Luke and Hayden take Russell to the cliff. When Russell chickens out, he and Hayden get in an argument and Hayden ends up pushing Russell OFF THE CLIFF! So now Luke has to figure out what to say at the impending court trial. What's the right thing to say? What about Hayden? Can Luke stay true to himself? It was an interesting read, sometimes it was hard to tell who was telling the story. Sometimes it sounded like the character was talking and sometimes it sounded like someone else was telling the story. I think it should have been in the point of view of the main character. All in all, I wasn't that fond of this book. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. It it would have been better if the main character wasn't such a whiner. Reviewed by a young adult student reviewer Flamingnet Book Reviews Teen books reviewed by teen reviewers
DL41 More than 1 year ago
Luke and Hayden are students at an elite boarding school and members of a high-profile sports team. Hayden is a member of life's charmed club, those lucky individual who are attractive, wealthy, athletic and smart, and to whom everything comes easily: good grades, girls, friends, you name it, they have, or can get, it. Luke, on the other hand, while plenty talented, has to work for what he gets. When a team initiation goes horribly wrong, Luke finds himself with a monumental decision to make: support his friend Hayden which might mean to lie, or choose the alternative. Both obviously have far-reaching consequences. With her deft weaving of multiple threads of the story throughout the narrative, Ariela Anhalt displays her considerable skill as a story-teller and accomplished writer. Anhalt combines her familiarity with the prep school milieu-the people, the relationships, the pressures-with an insight into her characters' psyches that belies her youth. Luke is complicated, grappling with his own baggage and struggling toward self-knowledge, largely without benefit of adult guidance or counsel, except that which is motivated by self-interest. We know what he says and what he thinks about what he says, and have much to consider between the two. Freefall is everything you want in a novel: a good story that leaves you with a lot to think about. It should be required reading for high school students.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
I am always impressed with new authors. The idea of all the hard work involved in writing a book, and then putting it out there for public criticism for the first time, must take an amazing amount of courage. It is especially impressive when I turn to the info on the back cover and see that the author is a 19-year-old sophomore in college. That's the case with a new release called FREEFALL. Just how tough are you? When life hits you with a father who commits suicide and a mother who can't seem to get past it, how do you handle the other tough stuff that comes along? Ask Luke Prescott. One might think that Luke has it all. He attends a fancy boarding school and has hopes of attending a nice college. Money isn't really an issue for him or for the friends who surround him at Briar Academy. He and his best friend and roommate, Hayden, are on the fencing team, enjoy the company of the occasional attractive female, and both get excellent grades. What could go wrong? Although Luke feels he knows Hayden pretty well, Hayden has been acting strange lately. When a new kid named Russell shows up and demonstrates his excellent fencing skills, Hayden doesn't seem able to cope. When Russell also moves in on Hayden's girlfriend, things come to a head. Unfortunately, Hayden's temper may have gotten the best of him during an initiation ritual that involves the new fencing team member and a jump from a nearby cliff. Luke finds himself faced with testifying either for or against Hayden at a trial accusing Hayden of killing Russell. He was there, but answering the question about what exactly happened is much harder than Luke ever imagined. Debut author Ariela Anhalt has crafted a sure winner. Readers will be drawn into the culture of Briar Academy with its cliques and rituals. Luke's family story adds depth and emotion that underline the complicated situation he faces at school. Anyone who gets involved in his story will no doubt find themselves measuring their own strength and convictions against those of Luke and several other characters. I look forward to seeing more from Ms. Anhalt in the future.