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Tumors Make Terrible Roommates

The main character in Marcella Pixley’s Ready to Fall deals with the loss of a loved one in a very personal—and slightly crazy—way.

Tumors Make Terrible Roommates

BOOK REPORT for Ready to Fall by Marcella Pixley

Cover Story: Hold On
BFF Charm: Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: In His Head
Bonus Factor: Steampunk Hamlet
Anti-Bonus Factor: Near Manic Pixie Dream Girl
Relationship Status: Support System

Cover Story: Mixed Messages

At first glance, this cover seems to be a positive one, with the various hands holding on to each other. But when you factor in the title, and the somewhat ominous tagline, it maybe gets a little dark. Are the hands saving each other, or are they about to let go?

The Deal:

When Max Friedman’s mother died the summer before his sophomore year in high school, Max did something rash: He invited his mother’s killer—a cancerous brain tumor—to live inside his own head. The tumor gladly took up residence, and began to make Max’s life a living hell. (Tumors aren’t great roommates.)

Thanks to the constant distraction and pressure caused by the tumor, Max’s grades and relationships suffered. Seeing that Max wasn’t doing well in his public high school, Max’s dad sends him to the creative Baldwin School in the hopes that an alternative learning experience might help Max through his grief.

There, he meets a girl named Fish and a guy called The Monk, both of whom try to help Max be Max again. But the tumor’s made himself at home, and he doesn’t look like he’ll be breaking his lease any time soon.

BFF Charm: Eventually

My heart goes out to Max. I don’t know from personal experience what it’s like to lose a parent at such a young age, but I’m very close to people who’ve experienced such a loss, and I know it’s an unbelievably hard situation to be forced into, especially when the cause of death is something beyond anyone’s control. Max is hurting, terribly, at the start of Ready to Fall, and that grief makes him shut himself off. I’d certainly try to be his friend, and he’s just the kind of artsy cool that would have really appealed to High School Mandy, but I’m not sure he’d even notice that I was making the effort.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Before making the final decision to attend Baldwin, Max and his dad take a tour, which just so happens to be led by a tiny girl with cotton candy pink hair and a personality twice her size. Max is immediately drawn to Fish, and he pines for her—hard. She’s a ray of sunshine in Max’s otherwise super dreary world, and that attraction does a lot for his situation.

Talky Talk: In His Head

Max’s head is an interesting place. It’s a bit dark and overcrowded thanks to the tumor. His grief is palpable, however, and Pixley really made me feel Max’s pain; it’s easy to put yourself in Max’s shoes, even if you’ve never been a teenage boy who’s lost his mother. Most of Ready to Fall’s other characters are equally real-feeling, although some of the secondary ones (particularly the other members of Fish and the Monk’s friend group) blend together.

When I step back and think about the plot devices Pixley used in the novel, however, things get a little jumbled. Max is an artist, but he essentially stops drawing once he gets to Baldwin. He barely speaks, but easily gets a part in the school’s production of Hamlet. There are pieces of his creative writing assignments interspersed in the novel, but he’s not a writer. These various devices move the plot along, and it’s believable that Max would have a variety of interests, but it doesn’t make for a truly cohesive story.

Bonus Factor: Steampunk Hamlet

One of the best things about Shakespeare, in my humble opinion, is that his plays can be set in pretty much any time period and they lend themselves well to unique adaptations. Baldwin’s production is a steampunk one, and Pixley did a great job of describing the sets and costumes. It’s a production I would love to see.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Near Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Fish isn’t totally an MPDG, but she very much rides the line between quirky-cool and a trope. I still really liked her, though, and she’s a believable character if you’ve ever spent time around theater kids.

Relationship Status: Support System

I didn’t know what to expect on our date, Book, and our time together was a lot sadder than I expected. It was also heartwarmingly hopeful, however, so I’m glad I took a chance on us. I’m here for you in the future, if you need a shoulder to lean on.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Ready to Fall is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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