Paula Riehle’s new novel finds five women dealing with the consequences of a long-ago tragedy.
The story opens in 2015 as Sarah Blake nervously awaits her four former best friends in a restaurant. It’s been 20 years since they’ve seen each other, and time has been kind to Tori and Stacey. Dalia, though recently sober, is a mess (and Sarah’s not doing so well herself). And Jenny doesn’t show up at all. The women have assembled to open a high school-era time capsule, but it’s clear something else is weighing on them.
Next, Riehle takes readers back to 1995, when Sarah and her friends, all popular cheerleaders, are basking in the carefree summer between their junior and senior year. Then Ella, an old friend of Sarah’s, moves back to the neighborhood. Ella fits right in – until she reconnects with the boy on whom Dalia has set her sights. Sarah isn’t sure where her loyalties lie, and when she finally picks a side, her choice will have devastating repercussions.
Riehle’s depiction of the ebb and flow of teen relationships is pitch-perfect. The girls can be infuriating and even cruel, but Riehle never loses sight of their humanity. Their decisions are always understandable, if often not commendable.
The girls’ home lives, too, are expertly portrayed. The varying parenting styles displayed, from open and loving to repressive to neglectful, explain much about the teens’ personalities. And the narrative is propulsive as well. Readers will likely guess the general nature of what haunts the women but will still be turning pages to find out what exactly transpired.
On the other hand, the 2015 sections that bookend the story feel rushed. Having been drawn into the lives of these teens, readers will want more time to get to know them as adults.
Nevertheless, with its engrossing characters and juicy what-would-you-do situations, Sarah’s Fall offers great appeal, both to solitary readers and to book clubs.
Highly recommended for fans of Megan Abbott (particularly Dare Me and You Will Know Me).