Crashing Down by Kate McCaffrey
Fremantle Press 2014
Kate McCaffrey's previous young adult novels have covered some pretty heavy subjects: her first novel Destroying Avalon exposed the sickening reality of cyber bullying, and her follow up, In Ecstasy, documented the hard core drug taking tendencies of certain teen sects in suburban Western Australia. In this new book, her fourth, McCaffrey juggles themes of teen pregnancy, adolescents injured in car accidents due to 'hooning' and the mounting pressure of year 12. Her protagonist, Lucy, is an excellent student and seems to have it all. But her relationship with boyfriend Carl is cooling. After an argument in which Lucy believes they have split up, Carl gets into his car and speeds off despite being under the influence of cannabis, and as a result he is badly injured in a car accident. When he wakes from his coma, he does not remember the break up with Lucy, and instead asks for her, making it harder for Lucy to sever the ties for real because she feels so responsible for him. To make matters worse, Lucy begins to suspect that she may be pregnant.
This is a difficult subject to tackle, and while McCaffrey has clearly put a lot of work into it, I couldn't connect with the characters' separate dilemmas. Stylistically, the book had a tendency to tell rather than show us what Lucy was feeling, and she herself seemed to be a vessel for the complicated moral decisions that the plot necessitated. While she was immediately likeable, dressing for a party with her friends and not letting her 'cool' boyfriend dictate her life, she quickly became flat for me. Other characters, like her friend Lydia, were hard to relate to for other reasons. Lydia, for example, is portrayed as 'the ditzy one' but at times she was too hard to believe... what 17 year old gets to that age seriously thinking the female sex organ is called a 'virginia'?
Despite this, the plot structure works nicely and if you can allow yourself not to be distracted by characterisation, the story flows well enough to make this a read in one sitting book. Lucy's relationships with her parents and Carl's parents provide excellent conflict, allowing the story to be less straightforward than it seems. It is quite a short book, however, and I would have liked to have seen the court case over Lucy's decision to end her pregnancy receive more attention. As it stands, Lucy worries about it for a chapter, and it is dismissed in almost a paragraph; after, while she feels apprehensive about seeing Carl's parents, she does not seem to be dealing with depression or anxiety over the matter, which might have been more realistic.
I loved the character of JD, who provided a bittersweet foil to the ever declining Carl. JD serves as a reminder to the graduating class about the accident, which like in many real environments, manages to transgress social 'barriers' and makes the group as a whole feel unified. This is also nicely illustrated by Lucy's growing friendship with Ben and Big Al, who previously she had not seen much of. Carl himself, it was hard to judge. While the effects of his head injury on his behaviour were certainly confronting and upsetting for the reader and for Lucy, we did not get as big of a sense of him before the accident to compare it to... only really his bad behaviour at the dance and a few flashbacks. The flashbacks were intended to make him sympathetic; for example, his not pressuring Lucy to have sex; but for me they made him seem like he had an ulterior motive, and I don't know why that was.
I think my verdict on the book is that it's not for me, but I can see this being incredibly successful with the high school reading market for which it is intended.
I gave it two stars.