Both thrilling and heartfelt, The Speed of Falling Objects by Nancy Richardson Fischer is a fantastic novel about facing your fears and pushing beyond your perceived limits to discover who you really are.
Danger “Danny” Danielle Warren has had a running list of things she’s afraid of since she was little. Since that day where one mistake caused her to lose an eye. But when her famous daredevil dad unexpectedly invites her to the filming of his next survival excursion through the Amazon rainforest, she sees the opportunity as her chance to reconnect with him and prove to him (as well as herself) that she’s neither a failure nor a letdown of a daughter, friend, or human being.
Of course, her running list of fears make that a bit difficult, what with many of them happening to pose a large threat to her in the Amazon. When nothing goes according to plan and the adventurers (as well as the crew) find themselves in mortal danger after a terrifying plane crash, Danny has to search within for her true potential and survive while helping others do the same.
In novels that focus on survival and terrifying situations, character and relationship development often falls by the wayside in deference to cheap jump scares and frightening situations for the sake of frightening situations. The Speed of Falling Objects is not that kind of novel.
Every instance of danger, every life or death situation the characters face, is in service not only to their character arcs but also to their relationships with one another. Nancy Richardson Fischer does a fantastic job of using fear and danger to move her characters across the Amazon like pieces on a chess board, pushing them closer and pulling them away from one another in well-calculated moves. While the main action of The Speed of Falling Objects only lasts a bit over a week, each and every character (both those who survive and those who don’t) undergo satisfying and believable personal journeys in a small time frame. Their environment, as well as their personal fears, push them to do so in a way that feels entirely organic.
The only personal journey aspect in this novel that seemed slightly rushed was that of the budding romance between Danny and Gus Price, the young Hollywood heartthrob who was meant to be a guest star on this Amazon expedition episode of Cougar Warren’s TV show. Now, I love their interactions and relationship with one another. The two, once we get to know them, are very well-matched and the thing I like most about them is that they have a sort of slow burn that isn’t “instalove” (like they would have in other novels). But there comes a bit of a sudden rush with their relationship that doesn’t feel as organic as the rest of their journey. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy that part of their getting to know one another, but it sticks out a bit from the smoothness of the rest of their (and others’) personal journeys.
While I’m always all for budding romances and slow burns, the real relationship to watch in this book is the one between Danny and her dad. For context, Cougar Warren is a bit of a combination of two famous Steves: Steve-O and Steve Irwin. He’s knowledgeable but pompous, capable but a bit cold-hearted at times, not to mention extremely selfish.
Danny, on the other hand, is knowledgeable but timid, capable but fearful. While stardom and notoriety drive Cougar, fear and compassion for other people (whether she realizes it or not) drive Danny.
But while their motivations and the ways in which they move through the world couldn’t be more different, their similarities become more pronounced as the novel goes on.
That is, in between the moments where Cougar is being an insufferable ass.
The ways in which he treats Danny, as well as the other crew members who are lost in the Amazon, are infuriating. Though he hasn’t spent much time with her over the course of her life, he somehow knows just what to say to hurt her the most and cuts her down in order to make himself look better and more intelligent. He can’t stand the spotlight being on anyone else but himself.
And through all that, Danny continues to earn his respect and even his affection, rolling with each and every blow he lands to her self-esteem. Their scenes together will make you simultaneously want to chuck your book at the next jerk you encounter and also keep reading to see the point where Danny stands up for herself and acknowledges her own value. It’s a fine line and Nancy Richardson Fischer writes to it oh so well.
Yes, Danny’s relationship with her father is incredibly frustrating, but in the best way possible. He’s a textbook narcissist (and then some) but he’s hard not to have a soft spot for him. His treatment of others and the ways in which he holds himself reveal more about his insecurities and struggles than he’d probably ever care for. It’s easy to understand how Danny takes so much shit from him but keeps yearning for his approval. Their relationship is beautifully nuanced and, while frustrating, ultimately satisfying.
Like I mentioned previously, all of these satisfying personal journeys really happen because the Amazon environment pushes them to do so. Nancy Richardson Fischer really did her research while The Speed of Falling Objects. The danger lurking around every corner and behind every fallen tree feels so real. There isn’t a single moment in this novel where it’s easy to forget that this group of people is fighting for their lives in the middle of one of the most dangerous yet beautiful environments in the world.
Honestly, that’s one of the aspects of The Speed of Falling Objects that I’m most impressed with. For a YA novel, this book is *far* less forgiving than I’d assumed it’d be. The dangers of the rainforest are very real and have very real, very fatal consequences. I won’t say who or how many of the group die throughout the course of the novel, but I personally didn’t not expect as many deaths as happened here.
While reading this book, you’ll find yourself grimacing while excitedly turning the page. Descriptions are incredibly vivid, both of rainforest flora and fauna as well as of injuries, death, and human anatomy. This book doesn’t pull any punches. The survival situation here is very much life or death, with death being the more likely.
But that’s what makes it a fantastic read. It’s a beautiful novel that follows one young woman’s journey toward discovering her true self that she chose to hide away long ago. While outside forces such as other people (namely the ever-frustrating Cougar Warren) and the rainforest help her along a bit, ultimately she finds her strength from within.
The Speed of Falling Objects is a book you won’t soon forget. Its beautiful imagery, vivid descriptions of death and danger, and carefully drawn characters will definitely stick with you. I can’t recommend it enough.
The Speed of Falling Objects by Nancy Richardson Fischer is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, or Indiebound. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!