Gather 'round, my friends, for this seemingly innocuous young adult book actually ended up filling me with a lot of mixed feelings, many of them Not Good. Who'da thunk that a rain forest survival story would end up making me so conflicted? Not me!
THE SPEED OF FALLING OBJECTS is about a girl named Danger. Yes, literally-- although she goes by her middle name, Danielle. Due to a childhood accident, she is half-blind. Her mother is a nurse and her father is a d-bag reality TV star named Cougar who's cast in the vein of Man vs Wild meets Steve Irwin. Danny's accident made her timid and afraid, and she doesn't want to take risks. That's why her mother is shocked when Danny demands to go on her father's show when he invites her. The latest destination? The rain forest. She's determined to repair her relationship with her father and have him finally get to know her, and prove to herself and others that she's not afraid or lesser--
--But the plane crashes before they arrive on site and she, the cast, and the crew are all marooned in the rain forest, which is filled with things that want to poison them, eat them, or kill them (or all of the above). Between her father trying to constantly literally and figuratively steal the show with his mad skills, and the judgement of teen heartthrob Gus, who's there to be eye candy and wrangle young female fans, there isn't a lot of room for Danny or her fears-- especially when she learns her dad had ulterior motives inviting her.
So I have a lot of thoughts.
📌 Disability rep: Not very well done. Danny has lost an eye-- and she mentions it. Constantly. Which is fine, because I understand that disability-- especially disability that is sustained later in life and not experienced from birth-- can be traumatic and difficult to deal with. But you definitely get the impression that it's written from an ablelist frame of mind, a la ME BEFORE YOU, in that Danny defines herself by her disability, says that she's not "whole," and a whole litany of other stuff that was very uncomfortable to read about. Then there's the vicious bullying she gets from classmates: they call her "pigeon" because she cocks her head to peer out of her blind spot. The whole book felt very anti-disability and it wasn't really cool that the conflict experienced was for Danny to "get over it."
📌 Terrible father: I freaking hated Cougar. I saw another review saying that he was "trying his best" and that they felt bad for him. Um, no. He was (partially/mostly, depending on how generous you're being) responsible for the accident that blinded Danny. He was constantly thinking of himself. He invited Danny on his show basically to make her the butt of all the jokes, which is a pretty disgusting thing to do to any kid, let alone a kid feeling insecure about their disability. And then, the piece de resistance: he was constantly making fun of Danny and putting her down for her medical knowledge, mansplaining to and demeaning her by turns, and when she actually saves someone's life by killing a snake, he "um actuallies" her and takes credit for it, even though she did the work!
Wow. Worst. Father. Ever.
📌 "Essence": Danny has this weird belief that if she sniffs dead things, she'll gain their essence and it will make her "whole" again. Now a teenager, she knows this won't really happen, but she still sniffs dead things-- dead animals, dead people. If it's dead, Danny will sniff it. I think it's supposed to be meaningful, but it's actually kind of scary in a hilarious and awful way. It happens multiple times, so don't worry if you manage to miss it the first time. There's dead body-sniffing for everyone. Enjoy.
📌 Everyone's a jerk: There was honestly no one to root for, and the ones I did like had bad things happen to them pretty early on. It actually reminded me a lot of GAME OF THRONES in that way. That's tough when it's a survival story, because if you're already wishing murder on the characters, you're not going to be very sorry if they get eaten by a jaguar (hypothetical, not a spoiler).
I guess the takeaway message in this book is that the rain forest is a dangerous place, but I already learned that from the nonfiction book-turned-movie, THE LOST CITY OF Z, and South Park's Rainforest, Shmainforest episode. I'm not sure if there is such a thing as an anti-tourism bureau, but if there is, the author should be on it, because this has made me certain that I never want to set foot in the Brazilian rain forest. She does a good job showing how dangerous it is, and how, despite the greenery and the animals, it's actually quite easy to starve to death in there because of how many things are poisonous or inedible. (There was a name for it in THE LOST CITY but I can't remember what the exact phrase was; I think the author compared the rain forest to a green desert.)
If you like survival stories and don't mind reading about a bunch of characters that all suck, you'll probably enjoy this book. But if you picked this up hoping for good disability rep or because you thought you'd end up with a realistic HUNGER GAMES novel about likable and inspiring characters fighting the odds, you'd best give this a miss.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
2.5 out of 5 stars