cover image Ready to Fall

Ready to Fall

Marcella Pixley. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-30358-7

The first time Max Friedman’s mother gets cancer, he’s five. The second time, he’s 16 and it’s a fatal brain tumor. Needing to keep something of his mother with him, Max invites her tumor into his own brain; it soon takes over, making it impossible for him to concentrate on anything, and his grades suffer. A progressive private school seems like the answer, and Max gets involved with the theater kids, including the radiantly pink-haired Fish. Pixley (Without Tess) uses the school production of Hamlet and the theater milieu effectively—the book’s title refers to trust-fall exercises, a common theater practice. It’s an act that takes courage, and over the course of the story, Max moves toward being willing to do it. The process involves his father, grandmother, a supremely cranky writing teacher, Fish, and even her on-again off-again boyfriend. Max’s interactions with the tumor are an odd but appropriate metaphor for the sorrow, fear, guilt, and lousy coping strategies of grieving. When Max finds community with others—who are just as damaged but striving to be happy—it’s rewarding and touching. Ages 14–up. Agent: Victoria Wells Arms, Wells Arms Literary. (Nov.)