Sunday, September 07, 2008


Anna Levine’s new YA novel, Freefall, is about taking risks in love and in life, the kind of risks that involve leaping into the unknown and not knowing where you’ll land.

It’s set in Israel, where 18-year old Abigail Jacobs–known to her friends and family as Aggie–stands on the edge of adulthood, ready to choose which unit of the IDF to join, and ready, too, to fall in love, though she’s not sure which boy might be meant for her.

Bursting with intelligence, but slight and underweight, Aggie needs to prove to herself that she has the courage to join a combat unit... in spite of her family’s protests and her own inner doubts. And she needs to summon a different kind of courage to recognize the growing emotional changes in herself.

Here’s an example of Aggie freefalling into new territory:
As he draws up again beside me, an awkward silence takes over. I never used to feel tongue-tied around him. But there’s something different in the way he’s acting with me. And the way he looks at me. His hint of a dimple in each cheek makes me want to try harder, sound smarter, act older.
The self-consciousness that Aggie displays about her new feelings is part of what makes her character so compelling, especially when Levine explores Aggie’s response further:
As I’m standing with my arms across my chest to keep warm, Noah leans over and slides his hand around my waist. I tilt my head up, surprised by this move–and definitely not expecting what follows.

The touch of his lips on mine sends a shiver right through me.
And then that moment of freefalling... the inevitable confusion and emotional uncertainty that follow the kiss:
What just happened? Did he just kiss me? Just a kiss? Or kiss kiss me.
What’s also compelling about Aggie is her internal struggle to come to terms with the true Aggie, not the Aggie who others think she is or want her to be, but the Aggie who she really is, deep down, beneath all the uncertainty.

It’s a place that Aggie strives to reach from the beginning of the novel, a place that she can get to only by freefalling, going beyond what she can see and know, taking the kind of risks that mean stepping into a new and unknown world where the stakes are that much higher than in childhood and where mistakes–if she makes it into the combat unit– can cost her life.

Levine is so steeped in Israeli life that she’s able to depict the risks of living in Israel as simple parts of every day life, as she does in this scene when Aggie arrives at her best friend’s home to find Shira's mother (who happens to be Noah's mother, too) doing the laundry:
...Then with a smile, as if noticing my impatience to run upstairs, she says, “Go on. I’m sure you’ve got a million things to catch up on.” She empties a few loose bullets out of Noah’s army uniform before tossing his pants into the washing machine. “Noah’s home, too,” she adds, her voice singing the words as if they’re the refrain of her favorite song.
That detail–the few loose bullets hidden in the pockets of his uniform–is so telling, not just of the casual way Israelis have had to adjust to war, but revealing the way the risks of war have become such a common part of the fabric of daily life.

But, really, it's Levine’s deep understanding of a young girl falling in love that gives this novel its glow.

In the following scene, Noah has just invited Aggie into his bedroom while she waits for Shira to get off the phone. Levine shows not only how Aggie feels about Noah, but how she feels about her feelings. The prose is almost kaleidoscopic, refracting the scene into different levels of emotion:
I sit so far on the edge that I almost slip off. I stub my foot on the butt of his rifle, which is only half under his bed, and just catch my balance before making a total idiot of myself.

“Listen,” he says. “I think I’ve perfected the picking on this song.” He glances up at me with his soft hazel eyes, and I try to meet his look without wavering and not showing how I’ve totally lost control on the inside, where pulses beat, blood rushes chaotically, and my emotions have declared a state of anarchy.

He folds up his legs to make room. I scuttle back a bit, trying to get comfortable while keeping enough space between us. I can’t stop looking everywhere. The book he’s reading lies on the floor spine up. Twisting my head, I can just read the title, On the Road, and there’s a picture of a guy leaning on a wall and smoking a cigarette. Another guitar in the corner is missing three strings. Crumpled pieces of paper litter the floor around the wastepaper basket. I want to take it all in. This is Noah, I think. The smell in his room is of worn clothes, oil rags for his gun, shoe polish, and shampoo.

Get a grip, I try telling myself.
This is the kind of writing that draws the reader deep into Aggie's heart as she freefalls into the unknown, seeking the courage to trust herself, hoping–the way she hopes when making her first parachute jump–that she’ll land unhurt, with both feet on the ground.

For more information about Freefall, visit Anna Levine’s website:

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