Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, by Lindsay Ribar

Come on, how could I resist a title and cover like this?

How could I resist this basic plot synopsis? Aspen Quick’s family has the power to reach into people and take something from them—a memory, an ability, a personality trait, and/or more—but they do so to keep the cliff from crumbling down and killing everyone in town.

I really enjoy these kind of contemporary magical realism stories. Give me the real world with one little supernatural twist—and this book has a doozy of one—and I’m sold. Seriously, how could I resist this book?

It’s one of the most intricate YA books I’ve read in a while. There are a lot of things going on simultaneously in this story. Aspen is dealing with his parents’ separation, and is angry that his mother left. He’s staying for the summer with his grandmother, who senses when the cliff needs to be repaired, and he’s learning more about the ritual to do so. He brought friends Brandy and Theo from the city along with him; they’re a couple, and he has harbored long-time love for her. He bothers local girl Leah, who had been best friends with Aspen’s cousin Heather. But Heather and Leah had a falling out, and Heather died about six months prior to the start of the book.

That’s only scratching the surface. There are a lot of other things I could mention, but they’d be considered spoilery. Lindsay Ribar intertwines all of these elements the same way she describes the “energy” of whatever Aspen takes from someone when he reaches into them. These plot threads are tendrils, and Ribar coaxes them out carefully. Every little detail in the story means something, and it’s thrilling when the detail came to mean something new and unexpected later in the story.

Not only are all these plot elements intertwined, but the timeline of the narration is as well. The story progresses mostly linearly, but every chapter ends with a short “Before” section, giving flashbacks prior to, during, and shortly after his parents’ separation. They’re not in any linearity whatsoever, but they provide pertinent side information connected to what else is going on. It’s undeniably an extremely well structured book.

I loved a majority of this book. The intertwined mysteries surrounding Heather’s death, Leah’s reactions to it, and the cliff itself were exceptionally strong and so much fun to read about. I only figured certain things out a few paragraphs before Aspen, and I like that a lot better than having revelations telegraphed too early. And there are wonderful questions posed throughout the book: Is our personality the sum of all of our memories, abilities, emotions, etc.? How do you balance individuality vs. the greater good? How much free will do we have? Suffice it to say that the middle of this book was awesome.

Where I have some issues are at the beginning and the end. We’re introduced to Aspen and his powers after he’s used them to break up his friends so he can have a shot at Brandy. I get that he’s a teenage boy doing something selfish, and it allows him to grow as a character throughout the story, but it really rubbed me the wrong way at the start of the book. I almost considered putting the book aside, but then Leah was introduced.

Leah is hands-down my favorite character. She doesn’t take any crap from Aspen or anyone else. She tells it like it is, she does what she wants, and her behaviors and reactions made me laugh, cry, get angry, and everything in between. When she was interacting with Aspen (especially when he was being kind of a jerk), the dialogue, the narration, the whole book sparkled.

I won’t reveal the ending. I really like a lot of the story’s resolution, particularly what all the mysteries all mean and the decisions Aspen makes about his family. The final lines and what they mean in terms of Aspen’s future are phenomenal. But there are some characters’ futures that I’m left wondering about, even though I understand thematically why they’re left that way—and it’s first-person narration so Aspen doesn’t know. I just wish I knew a little more about what happens to them.

This is a unique, well-crafted story, and I do recommend it. There’s a compelling mystery, significant character growth, and some fun supporting characters. Maybe I’m nitpicking about perceived cracks in the story’s foundation, but Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies really rocks at FOUR STARS.

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Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies is available at Amazon.

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