Tallulah Falls is a coming of age novel about a high school girl, nicknamed Tallulah, who runs away from her comfortable Oregon home. She intends to travel to Florida to help her friend Maeve. However, Tallulah is robbed and abandoned by her ex-boyfriend along the way. When the story begins she is broke, on foot, and struggling through a Tennessee rainstorm. She ends up being taken in as a temporary assistant at a veterinary clinic, and given a place to stay. Over the next few weeks, she learns about caring for animals and people, including herself.
Tallulah Falls reminded me a bit of Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts, another story about a teenage girl abandoned by her boyfriend and befriended by the citizens of a small town. Tallulah, however, has a family to go back to, and fully expects her friend Maeve to come to her rescue. The friendship between Tallulah and Maeve is a major part of the story, even when Maeve is offscreen. Tallulah looks up to Maeve, who is older and more self-confident than she is. She makes decisions based on what she thinks that Maeve would admire. And yet, Maeve doesn't return her calls...
The characterization in Tallulah Falls is deep and thoughtful. Several characters appear to Tallulah to be one thing, but gradually reveal themselves to be something else. Christine Fletcher isn't afraid to mix the bad with the good. Tallulah herself is a mix, a troubled teen who doesn't fit in with her own family, but also a loyal friend, someone who goes out of her way to help a wounded dog. The characterization, for me, made the book one that I couldn't put down. The veterinary clinic setting in Tallulah Falls is also detailed and real, bearing the clear mark of the author's real-world experience.
And I just like Christine Fletcher's writing. When she describes things, she uses all five senses. She cuts to the heart of things, and makes you feel like you're there. I could pick passages to quote for you from most any page. But here are a few of my favorites:
"Tallulah bolted. She stopped only when she'd reached the open road, the rain gushing down as though it had missed her, finding new paths down her face and neck and arms. Her legs shook so badly she had to bend over, hands braced on her thighs, to keep from collapsing." (Chapter 1)
"I'm just being honest. That was Terri's motto. But Terri's was the kind of honesty that clobbered you and left you bleeding, wondering what the hell happened." (Chapter 8)
"As soon as Diesel was settled, Tallulah slung her mop over the exam room floor, left to right to left, backing her way across the room. The whiskey smell seemed stronger today. Flashes of warm sheepskin again, the safety of being held. And an unsettled sensation, high in her chest, of excitement and grief mingled. A feeling being out of place." (Chapter 14)
See what I mean about using all of the senses? This doesn't feel like a first novel. I'm looking forward to reading Christine's next book, 10 Cents a Dance (historical fiction). I would recommend Tallulah Falls for teenagers or adults. The interpersonal dynamics feel more like this is a book for girls, but I think that boys interested in veterinary medicine would gobble this one up for its authenticity. I also would recommend this as a next book for fans of Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen books. Christine Fletcher is an author to watch.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: May 29, 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from the author (who I met at the Kidlitosphere conference this fall)
Other Blog Reviews: Teen Book Review, Bookshelves of Doom, Propernoun.net
Author Interviews: Worducopia. There's also a nice conversation with the author included at the end of the paperback edition.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.