The Speed of Falling Objects
The Speed of Falling Objects is a gruesome, nasty piece of business that tries to explore the nature of coping, healing and growth – but instead wallows through misery with a phalanx of unlikable characters, unrealistic actions and ableist situations, all concluding with a hollow, cheesy uplift of an ending that belongs in another book.
Sixteen year old Danger Danielle – Danny – Warren is the daughter of Cougar Warren, a Bear Grylls expy who travels the world performing survival-based stunts like building a raft with his bare hands (with the help of a celebrity guest) and barefooting it through the Great White North. His fame shelters Danny from ridicule as she tries to fit into the world of high school, but he’s never been around and she feels abandoned by him. Mostly she hangs out with her sardonic best friend, Trixie, and tries to cope with the present by behaving in a studious, safe manner. When she was a child, Danny lost an eye in an accident, and the loss has forced her to relearn how to navigate the world around her. The accident has left her traumatized, avoidant of risks, panicked and prone to injury.
Danny also thinks that her accident caused her parents’ relationship to dissolve and her father to walk out on the family, embittering her pragmatic mother, who gave up her dream of being a doctor to raise Danny alone. When Danny finds out her mother deliberately cut off communication between Danny and Cougar by not mailing Danny’s letters, she’s filled with fury. The only solution to this, in Danny’s mind, is to ask her father if she might join him on one of his televised expeditions. He’s about to head into the Amazon Rainforest with a camera crew and a celebrity guest to film his show; when he says yes, Danny is hopeful. This will redeem her; they’ll mend their relationship and get closer together, even if they have to do so on television.
But en-route to the Amazon, the plane crashes right in the middle of the jungle. Using her fascination with and knowledge of medicine to help where she can, Danny struggles to live up to her father’s expectations even as she begins to find her footing – all the while fighting arrogant, attention-hog Cougar, who may or may not have had ulterior motives for bringing her on this expedition. And then there’s Gus Price, handsome movie star and teen idol, whose hopes of positive publicity have died a harsh death in the plane crash. Danny and Gus get closer, day by day. But will they both survive the jungle alive?
The Speed of Falling Objects is a bloodbath and a coming of age tale; a lot bizarre, a little relatable, and stunningly, wholeheartedly gory. If your teen likes pat abelism, hates their father and adores copious amounts of blood, this is the book for them. Others will be annoyed by the way Danny’s disability is handled, or they’ll be put off by the grisly nature of it. Or her horrible father. Or, well… most of the characters.
Let me be frank. I’m a sighted person with both eyes intact, and I found this book to be painfully ableist. Danny constantly refers to herself as incomplete because she lacks an eye. Her schoolmates make fun of her for the way she compensates for her disability. Her father is – spoiler – a jerkhole who invited her on the expedition so he could show her up before the cameras and make jokes at her expense, and has no thought for her or her safety until things get very hairy (he also openly hates her mother). The whole point of Danny’s rite of passage is to force her to realize she’s ‘already complete’, that both of her parents are flawed, and to accept herself as she is, but Fisher fails entirely to understand how someone missing an eye interacts with their world and how they feel about themselves. But the biggest problem with Danny is that she’s read so many of her mother’s medical journals that she can perform rudimentary medical procedures at the drop of a hat. The author says in her revelatory notes, that she refrained from having a character stuff another’s wound with maggots to heal them – all I can say is that it’s not far afield from what actually happens in the book.
The Speed of Falling Objects also fails to establish a quirky, morbid point of view on life and death, coming up feeling artificial and hollow. Danny is the kind of heroine who literally tries to huff up the souls of dead animals and people to absorb their essences in the hope they will make her whole – a belief that even she knows is false but has harbored since the accident (see what I meant about the ableism?). It’s all well and good when she’s doing this to fetal pigs being dissected in an unnecessarily graphic scene early in the book (note to caring adults: do not give this book to the animal-loving kid in your life). But then she tries to do it to one of her father’s colleagues from the plane crash (whose death is described in vividly gory detail, as are multiple other deaths – again, this is not a book for a squeamish teen and the level of viscera on display is very high). She eventually uses this person’s strength to pivot over an obstacle, which is as appalling as it sounds.
And none of the characters are really appealing. Everyone is (understandably) negative and angry, but the worst is Cougar, who’s the most nightmarishly negligent parent in YA lit since Corrine Dollanganger locked her children in an attic. The others are barely given more meat on their bones than a character in an Irwin Allen movie.
Also flat: the romance between Danny and Gus, the latter of whom only seems to exist in the book because romance is a thing in the genre. He may or may not be vapid and career-orientated, may or may not love the real Danny, but he’s older than her (eighteen to her sixteen-turned-seventeen) and she’s so inexperienced in the romance department that it’s uncomfortable to watch them together.
It’s just as uncomfortable to read a ‘the Peruvian jungle is filled with scary, deadly creatures, do not go there, ever, a snake will find you and you will die’ book as the Amazon Rainforests burn. Understandably, our characters have little positive to think about the place where they’ve landed – but do they need to step on every poisonous snake or every single big cat in the jungle? Fisher seems to hate the planet’s lungs more than Parker and Stone.
The Speed of Falling Objects will likely fall into the warm embrace of someone with kinder eyes, someone who will not read the author’s notes and realize that the author used the staged reality show Naked and Afraid as part of her research. I unfortunately am not that reader, and would rather have a candiru swim up my urethra than read this book again.