I really enjoyed this novel. Once I was into the story, I found myself staying up late to read “just one more chapter” (or two or three). Nothing extraordinarily exciting happens in these pages, but I was pulled in as if a great reveal awaited me in the next chapter. Craft-wise, The Time It Takes to Fall is more of a four-star novel, but I think the fact it kept me so captivated should count for something.
The Time It Takes to Fall is the story of a girl, Dolores, who yearns to be an astronaut. Her father is a technician at NASA and her mother is slowly unraveling. Against a backdrop of a budding shuttle program and the Challenger disaster, Dolores comes of age in ways that are achingly familiar at times, unrealistically extreme at others. I liked her character and her relationship with others. She is intelligent and insightful, and though she's not always personable, her attitude seems age appropriate and does not make her any less enjoyable to be around. Some of Dolores actions may have gone further than I imagine a thirteen-year-old in her position would go, but given her family situation, her aspirations, and the current events, these actions are not completely outside possibility.
For the most part, The Time It Takes to Fall is written in the voice of a normal thirteen-year-old girl. Her view can at times be juvenile. But Dolores isn't your average thirteen-year-old. She has her childish moments, but she is often rather insightful in a believable way. Her love of physics and the space program really come out in these pages and highlight the novel's strongest moments. Of the many historical world-changing events (e.g. revolutions, genocides, natural disasters), the Challenger explosion of 1986 is, in hindsight, fairly insignificant. Yet, for whatever reason, it shook the nation in a way that rivaled presidential assassinations and surprise attacks. And it seemed to resonate most strongly with those who were children in the 1980s. By giving us this brilliant yet formative protagonist, Dean has really captured the sentiment of the event. Further, Dean has really stepped out and shown her bravery. It is not easy to tackle such a significant event that is dear to many people. And it's certainly not easy to portray the inner-workings of the massive organization at its heart, finger-pointing and all.
Five stars: for bravery, significant research, well-crafted characters, and a story that kept me up at night and taught me a few things.