Sixteen-year-old Jess Tennant has never met any of her relatives, until her mom suddenly drags her out of London to spend the summer in the tiny English town where her family's from. Her mom's decision is surprising, but even more surprising is the town's reaction to Jess. Everywhere she goes, people look at her like they've seen a ghost. In a way, they haveshe looks just like her cousin Freya, who died shortly before Jess came to town.
Jess immediately feels a strange connection to Freya, whom she never got to meet alive. But the more Jess learns about the secrets Freya was keeping while she was alive, the more suspicious Freya's death starts to look. One thing is for sure: this will be anything but the safe, boring summer in the country Jess was expecting.
Beloved author Jane Casey breaks new ground with How to Fall, a thrilling and insightfully written mystery.
About the Author
JANE CASEY was born and raised in Dublin. A graduate of Oxford with a M. Phil from Trinity College, Dublin, she lives in London where she works as an editor. She is also the author of the Maeve Kerrigan mystery series for adults. How to Fall is her first young adult novel.
Read an Excerpt
As a place to spend the summer, Port Sentinel probably had its good points, but it was doing a good job of hiding them. I trudged down Fore Street, the main and only street in town, feeling the rain soak into my jeans. It had been pouring since the night before, when my mother and I arrived in the middle of a thunderstorm and unloaded all our belongings in a serious cloudburst, running from the car to the holiday cottage in total hysterics. It would take weeks for everything to dry out completely.
When I woke the following morning to steady drizzle the weather pretty much matched my mood. The sky was an ominous shade of gray that suggested there was plenty more rain to come. There was no TV in our rented cottage, or access to the internet, and I had lasted through four chapters of the witless romantic novel I’d found on a shelf before I gave up. Just because the hero was a ruggedly handsome cowboy, I didn’t see why it gave him the right to be so rude all the time. Plus the heroine was a twit. I couldn’t even be bothered to flick to the end to make sure they really did live happily ever after. I grabbed my jacket (rainproof, hooded, essential accessory for a summer holiday in England) and went to find Mum.
She was in her bedroom, I discovered, lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
“Are you OK?”
“Fine. This is called relaxing. I’m relaxing.”
“You sound as if you’re trying to convince yourself.”
She grabbed a pillow and threw it at me. “Leave me alone.”
“What? I’m just saying, you don’t look relaxed.”
“I’m trying. This is a holiday, after all.”
A holiday she had decided we were going to take. Molly Tennant, née Cole, returning to her roots accompanied by her teenage daughter, Jess, after an absence of many years and a bitter divorce. Because there was absolutely no chance of that being awkward. I didn’t bother with I-told-you-so. “I’m going out for a wander. Do you want to come?”
She shook her head.
“You’re going to have to leave the house sometime.”
“Not yet, though.”
“I’m building up to it.”
“I’ll leave you to it, then. I’ll be back soon.”
Which was no word of a lie, because it wasn’t as if it was going to take a long time to look around. Port Sentinel wasn’t a one-horse town, but that was only because they’d upgraded the horse to a Range Rover for the sake of the out-of-towners who owned holiday homes there. The locals probably had to share a three-legged donkey, but they were very much less important than the bankers and brokers who’d built large houses all the way across the hill above the town. They were all at least five times the size of the tiny fishermen’s cottages and pastel-painted terraced houses that had once been the only buildings in Port Sentinel, before it became fashionable. Huge picture windows stared out blankly at the view, reflecting nothing but gray skies and the gravel-colored sea. It would be pretty if the sun ever came out, I admitted grudgingly. Very grudgingly after I had stepped off the pavement into a puddle and soaked my right foot. Very grudgingly indeed after a blonde in a four-wheel drive had come within inches of mowing me down as she sped down the road, huge sunglasses firmly in place despite the weather.
Fore Street was small and narrow, the old buildings leaning against one another drunkenly when you looked above the shopfronts. Half the shops were little boutiques and designer outlets too exclusive for me to consider visiting, even to get out of the rain. The other half consisted of a fairly random collection of teashops, charity shops, junk shops, and we-sell-everything mini-markets wreathed in brightly colored displays of plastic beach toys. They took up most of the narrow pavement. Passing one, I pushed an inflatable whale out of my way and collided with a girl who had been hidden behind it, heading in the opposite direction.
“Sorry.” I wasn’t, in fact; it was at least as much her fault as mine. But instead of apologizing in return as I had expected, the girl stared at me for a long moment from under her dripping umbrella. I had plenty of time to notice very perfect mascara standing out like stars around her wide eyes, and the serious diamond studs in her ears, and the expensively highlighted hair, and the white skinny jeans, and the sky-high wedges, and the pale-pink polo shirt she was wearing with the collar flipped up, and the Burberry mini-trench that had cost more than my entire wardrobe put together. She looked far more rattled than a near-miss should have made her—stunned, in fact. Alarmed. Panicked. And as a cascade of raindrops fell between us, I realized the hand that held the umbrella was shaking. Rainy it might have been, but it wasn’t cold. Not even a little bit.
She stepped sideways eventually, still staring, and I walked on, wondering if she had just never seen anyone in frayed jeans and battered trainers on Fore Street before. I wasn’t wearing makeup, either. Call the fashion police, quick.
I probably wouldn’t have thought much more about it if it hadn’t been for two things. One was the old lady who opened a shop door right in front of me a minute later so I caught sight of the street behind me reflected in the glass—including a perfect view of the girl standing under her umbrella, still gazing in my direction, now on her mobile phone, talking urgently. The other was the fact that three other people stopped to gawp at me in the space of the next three minutes: two girls on the other side of the road who nudged each other as soon as they spotted me, and a middle-aged woman who peered at me short-sightedly and started to wave, then dropped her hand and hurried on. I knew I was blushing, which was annoying in itself. If this was what it was like to be a celebrity I’d be quite happy to remain obscure forever.
But I was never going to be obscure in a small town like Port Sentinel. It was one of the many reasons why I hadn’t been thrilled to hear we were spending the summer there. I had waited to tackle Mum until we were actually in the car, halfway down the motorway, London not even a brown smudge in the rear-view mirror any more. I’d read in a parenting book Mum had borrowed from the library that the car was the ideal place for awkward conversations with teenagers; I didn’t see why that shouldn’t work just as well the other way round. (If you’re wondering why I was reading a parenting book, all I’ll say is: knowledge is power. I like to spot the psychological trickery well in advance. And if you’re wondering why Mum was reading a parenting book, so was I.)
“The thing I don’t understand,” I had said carefully, “is why now.”
“Sorry?” My mother, who is neither deaf nor stupid, played for time.
“Why now? You haven’t gone near Port Sentinel or your family since before I was born, and suddenly we’re spending the summer there. Which, by the way, you didn’t even discuss with me.”
“There was nothing to discuss, Jess.” She kept her eyes on the motorway and her knuckles were white as she gripped the steering wheel. That didn’t mean anything; she was a nervous driver at the best of times. But I knew I was making her tense.
Which was no reason to stop.
“I was sort of looking forward to spending the summer in London. You know, with my friends. And with Dad,” I added.
“I seem to recall someone complaining about their friends being away. Isn’t Lauren in France?”
“Staying with a family in Provence. Her mum is completely obsessed with her being fluent in French by the end of the holidays.” Lauren had moaned about having to go, right up to the moment when she realized the family included an exceptionally hot nineteen-year-old named Raoul. Raoul, who was tall, dark, and handsome—and knew it. Raoul, who spent his life lounging around half naked or in the pool. She had only been there for three days but already I’d been e-mailed seven pictures of him snapped with her phone, and if she thought he hadn’t noticed her stalking him she was quite wrong. Raoul posing casually by the fridge in boxers, drinking milk straight out of the carton (which, yuck—but it hadn’t put Lauren off). Raoul standing on a diving board, six-pack on display. Raoul soaking wet, his tan like caramel, glancing casually at Lauren at just the moment she happened to be taking his picture. Five more and I’d have enough for a calendar.
“And Ella’s in the States.”
“In a giant camper van, with her whole family, on the trip of a lifetime.” I shook my head. “I don’t think everyone’s going to make it back alive.”
“That’s a long time to be stuck in the same vehicle together. I could barely face the drive down to Devon.”
“Yes, and why exactly are we going?”
“You didn’t answer me the first time.”
“Is this teenage rebellion kicking in at last?” Mum shot me a sidelong look, amused.
“Oh, you’ll know when it’s teenage rebellion, I promise you. This isn’t it. I just want to know why we packed up everything we own so we could spend six weeks in the back end of nowhere.”
A shrug. “Family stuff.”
“What about Dad?”
“What about him?”
“Doesn’t he mind us being away for that long?”
“Well, your father doesn’t care where I go, or with whom.” Another sidelong look; she had picked up on the note of hurt I hadn’t quite managed to keep out of my voice. “And I did ask him about your visits, Jess, but he’s really busy at the moment and he said he’d catch up with you when we get back.”
“Busy with work or with Martine?”
“I didn’t ask. But I imagine with both.”
I rolled my eyes. “Grim.”
“Martine seems a very nice person.”
“Mum, you don’t have to like everyone. Especially not Dad’s new girlfriend.”
“We’re divorced. He can do what he likes. And so can I.”
She spoke lightly but I wasn’t fooled. It had been a tough couple of years since they broke up. Or rather, since Dad had left her. Mum had married young and stayed young, so when Dad left, she struggled to cope. We’d both had to do a lot of growing up in a hurry. There were days when I felt as if I was the one who should be looking after her.
“OK. So if you’re going to start acting like Dad, I can expect you to turn up with a twenty-four-year-old lover one of these days.”
She laughed. “I don’t really go for younger men.”
“Maybe you should. Maybe that’s the mistake we’ve been making. Younger men must be easier to push around.”
Mum’s eyes were full of sympathy. “Oh, Jess. Are you still upset about Conrad?”
“Never mention that name to me again.”
“OK. I won’t. But just so you know, I never liked him. I thought you could do better.”
“If only you’d said.”
“You wouldn’t have paid any attention.”
She was right. It was my turn to go silent. I stared out of the window. I couldn’t think about Conrad without wanting to curl up in a ball, which wasn’t really possible in the front seat of Mum’s Nissan Micra. I didn’t like to think about how I’d fallen for Conrad. He was tall and thin, with high cheekbones, amazing hair, and a dreamy, distracted air that had intrigued me. I had imagined it was because he was deep in thought but actually he was just vacant, his brain in neutral most of the time. He was artistic, or so he said. He wrote poetry, even. Really, really bad poetry, as I’d discovered almost immediately. No matter how much I wanted to believe he was The One, the poetry had always worried me.
All that, and I’d thought I was in love. Right up until the moment I’d arrived late at a party, wandered in, and found him sitting on top of Karen Seagram, one hand burrowing in her top as if he’d lost his keys, with his tongue stuck in her mouth. To which I had said, “Rather her than me, Conrad. You kiss like a goat eating a jam sandwich through a letterbox.”
I’d walked out with my head high, thinking, Never let them see you cry. But in private I’d done more than my share of crying.
I shook my head, trying to dislodge the image, and returned to my original point. “What family stuff?”
“You’re not going to drop it, are you?”
“You’re so stubborn. I think you get it from your father.”
“That’s fighting talk.”
“You do get some things from him, you know.”
“You’re argumentative. Stubborn, as I said before. And you’re tough.”
I hadn’t been expecting that. “Tough?”
“Not in a bad way. Just—you’re not like me. You don’t back down. You stand up for yourself.”
“If I have to. But I’m not sure I like being described as ‘tough.’”
“Call it strength of character, then.”
“Proving my point…” Mum murmured, more or less to herself. Then she sighed. “Look, it’s been a difficult year. You know about Freya.”
“Of course.” Freya, my cousin, born not long after me, dead since last summer. I had never met her. The news of her death had been strangely shocking—strange, because I had never thought about her, beyond knowing her name. Strange because I had felt a sharp sense of loss for something I had never known I was missing. “I hadn’t realized it was a year ago already.”
“In a couple of weeks.” Mum’s hands tightened on the wheel and she didn’t look at me as she said, “When it happened I was already in touch with Tilly.”
“You didn’t tell me that.” Tilly, Mum’s twin sister. Freya’s mother.
She wriggled. “I didn’t want to tell you about it because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. We were just getting to know one another again. It takes time to build up a relationship after being out of touch for so long.”
A nod. “From right after I got engaged to your father until the day the divorce papers came through.”
“Because she didn’t like Dad.”
“Not much. But I didn’t listen.”
“Which is why you didn’t bother to warn me about Conrad,” I guessed.
“One of the reasons. It didn’t seem worth it. When you’re in love, reason goes out the window. And I loved your father very much.”
“We all make mistakes,” I said kindly.
“It wasn’t a mistake. If I hadn’t married him, I wouldn’t have you.”
“Thanks. For the gift of life, I mean.”
“You’re welcome. Tilly was nice enough not to say I told you so, and she and Jack invited us to come and stay last year. But then Freya died.”
“It was an accident, wasn’t it?”
“As far as I know.”
“Not suicide or something.”
The car lurched as Mum yanked the wheel, irritated. “Jess, I’m serious. Do not even suggest something like that to Tilly. Promise me.”
“I was just asking,” I said, wounded.
“You can’t ask. It would be too hurtful.”
“Because they don’t want to think Freya killed herself.”
“Don’t they want to know the truth, though?”
I thought about that for a couple of miles. I could understand that if Freya had chosen to end her life, it would be hard to bear. I’d still have wanted to know for sure, though. And it was weird to think that she’d been the same age as me, and now she was gone.
“So why are we going to see them now?”
“I want to go home,” Mum said simply. “I want to see the old places. I want to see my sister and get to know my niece and nephews, and I want you to have a family.”
“I have a family.”
“You have your father, his current girlfriend, and me. That’s not enough.”
I was frowning. “If you were in touch with Tilly when Freya died, why didn’t you go to see her then?”
“It wasn’t the right time.”
Mum looked at me before she answered, as if she was considering what to say and how to say it. “Because you would have come with me.”
“So? I know Tilly didn’t like Dad, but I’m not that much like him.”
“Is my handbag on your side of the car?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not.” Mum glanced at me again. “Seriously, Jess—look inside my bag, in the zipped pocket.”
I found the bag wedged behind my left foot and dragged it onto my lap with some difficulty, since the front of the car was crammed, as was the back seat and the boot. We did not travel light. “What am I looking for?”
“Tilly sent me a photo of the family. I think you should see what Freya looked like.”
As she said it, I unzipped the pocket. My fingertips brushed against a stiff bit of paper and I slid it out, careful not to bend the edges. It was a family photograph of six people sitting on a grassy slope. Two adults, one the image of Mum, the other tall and fair, superficially like Dad. The sisters had a type, it seemed. Two girls, two boys. Two older, two younger.
“Hugo was the eldest. Then Freya. Then Petra. Then Tom.”
Tom with a football under his arm and a scowl on his face, as if he wanted to go and play instead of posing for a picture. He was maybe ten, a couple of years younger than Petra. She sat with one sandal off, bare brown legs crossed in front of her, still childish but not for much longer. Hugo, as dark as I am fair, a year older than me and broodingly attractive. And Freya, I guessed. Freya, who was blond, like me. Who had the same shape of face as me, the same pointed chin. The same slanting blue eyes. The same mouth.
The same. Top to toe. The dead girl and I could have been twins.
I looked up. “Mum…”
“Don’t worry. I sent Tilly pictures of you. She knows what to expect.”
But everyone else wouldn’t, I thought, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.
So it wasn’t really surprising, all things considered, that people on Fore Street were acting as if they’d seen a ghost. As far as they were concerned, Freya was back from the dead.
Awkward wasn’t the word.
I lasted another ten steps before yet another person did a double take, this time an elderly man carrying a battered golf umbrella. He stopped in his tracks, the better to stare at me. I dived without thinking into the nearest shop, without even checking to see what it sold, looking for a place to hide. The dovecot smell of dusty old books met me and I smiled to myself as I pushed my hood back. A proper secondhand bookshop. Exactly what I had been looking for.
It wasn’t a large shop but every inch of available space was shelved and a pair of bookcases ran down the middle of the room so that it was divided into three narrow aisles. Stacks of hardbacks teetered on the floor, waiting for a gap to appear in the row upon row of books, faded and worn and thoroughly enticing. The expensive ones were in glass cases nearest the door, the collector’s items in tooled leather or wrapped in the original dust jackets. Not for me. I wandered down the middle aisle, passing gardening and theology, politics and fishing—nothing that would tempt me to stop. There was a desk near the back with a cash register on it, but no sign of the person who was reading—I leaned over to look at the hardback that was lying on the desk—Classic Cars of the 1970s. Interesting stuff.
Or perhaps not.
Behind the desk, a sign on a frankly dangerous-looking spiral staircase promised that the fun stuff like contemporary fiction was upstairs. I put my hand on the banister, prepared to risk the narrow treads for the sake of something decent to read, then stopped. Quick footsteps overhead: someone moving toward the stairs. I stood back to let them come down. I wasn’t superstitious about passing people on the stairs—there just wasn’t room for two on the death spiral.
The owner of the feet rattled down the steps at top speed, a mug of coffee in one hand, a stack of books balanced precariously in the other, and it was my turn to stare. He was very much not the fuddy-duddy bookshop owner I had expected, lean in jeans and a T-shirt. He was seventeen or eighteen, tall, with dark hair. Straight nose. Broad shoulders. Oh, hello …
He half glanced at me, his eyes startlingly gray against his tan, then did a classic double take and almost slipped. He swore as the books slid to the floor, but managed not to spill his coffee, which impressed me. I might have wondered what his problem was if he hadn’t been giving me the look I was starting to expect: shock mixed with suspicion. And what looked like—but surely couldn’t have been—fear …
“Are you OK?”
“Fine.” He didn’t look at me again as he set his mug down on the desk and turned to rescue the books he’d dropped.
“Sorry.” I picked up the paperback that had fallen at my feet—To Kill a Mockingbird—and handed it to him.
“Why are you sorry?” He concentrated on flattening the pages that had creased when the book fell.
“Because I startled you.”
He didn’t bother to deny it. “No harm done.”
“Harper Lee is looking a bit battered,” I observed.
A glance at the back of the book, then the gray eyes met mine again. He looked amused and I wondered if I had imagined him going pale under his tan when he saw me first. “She wasn’t exactly pristine before.”
There was absolutely no reason for me to blush, but I did it anyway. To cover it, I said, at random, “I was just going upstairs.”
“Be my guest.”
I started up the staircase, acutely conscious that he was watching me. I risked a look down from near the top, and felt a jolt of surprise that was halfway to disappointment. He was sitting down with his back to me, already absorbed in his book. And why not? I was just another customer.
Even so, I wandered around the upstairs room as the floor creaked, dithering about which book to choose from the thousands that lined the walls. It wasn’t that I wanted to impress him, I promised myself. But romance was out. Crime didn’t seem to strike the right note either. Distracted, I found myself wishing I knew more about Freya. Had she been an intellectual? Did she read novels? Did she read anything at all? The room was large, with a pair of sagging leather armchairs in the middle and dormer windows that looked out on the wet street below. A door in the corner was marked PRIVATE; that would be where he had made his coffee, I thought, and then wondered why I cared. I went as far as one of the windows, stepping up on a low shelf to peer out at the street. As I turned away, I half saw myself reflected in the glass and looked again—a ghost version of me, shadows for eyes, washed-out skin, and hair that hung in straggling tails. A drowned me. They had found Freya in the sea, I recalled, with a shiver that surprised me, then made me laugh. I was getting to be as bad as everyone else in Port Sentinel, as edgy about nothing, about a coincidental resemblance. I turned the shiver into a shrug and jumped down off the shelf, careless of the noise I made. I was there to buy a book, after all, not wallow in creepiness. And I still didn’t have a clue what to choose.
In the end, a cheap paperback edition of Cold Comfort Farm came to the rescue. I knew the title but not what it was about, and levered it off a crowded shelf to have a look. Sitting in one of the armchairs, I lost track of time as I read the first few pages, and then a few more. I hadn’t expected it to be funny, but it was. I made myself stop reading eventually, checked I could afford it, and went back down the stairs with the grace and dexterity of a three-toed sloth. The boy could run down if he liked. I didn’t mind sacrificing speed if it meant I wouldn’t make a fool of myself by falling. I was so busy concentrating on looking nonchalant that I didn’t notice the boy was gone until I put my book down on the desk. In his place sat a balding middle-aged man in a tweed jacket, the bookshop owner of my imagination. He didn’t crack a smile as I handed him two pound coins, tossing them into the till with something approaching disdain.
Taking my book, I hesitated for a second, then plunged. “Where did your assistant go?”
“Who? Oh—Will. He was just looking after the shop for me for half an hour. We’re not busy today. As usual.”
My book was not going to make the difference between profit and loss, it seemed. I slunk out, hiding it under my jacket to protect it from the rain that was still falling. At least I had found out the boy’s name, if nothing else. It suited him, I thought. Will.
And as if I had summoned him, he fell into step beside me.
“I think we need to talk.”
Copyright © 2013 by Jane Casey
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The best Teen book I've read in a long time. Jane Casey is a master with words, and balances the mystery and romance perfectly. I loved the characters and the setting. I've already read the second in the series and can't wait for the third. I will be looking for her other works as well.
Well enough written, but every character in this book is obnoxious or entirely insipid except for the dead one.