Torres Sanchez, Jenny. The Fall of Innocence. Philomel Books, 2018. 425p. ISBN: 9781524737757. $18.99.
Emilia De Jesus has basically gotten her life back together after a brutal attack when she was 8 years old shattered her and her family. After years of hard work she now has a good relationship with her mother, her brother and her devoted boyfriend. Sure, her dad has been AWOL for years and no, she hasn’t made a ton of friends. But things are basically ok. Until, that is, she learns that she identified the wrong person in her attack. And now the possibility of having to confront him, and the reality that her real attacker has never been held accountable, are breaking cracks in her world. Her fragile sense of safety, her tenuous hold on a “normal” teenage life, her ability to control her anxiety in social situations are all disappearing. With winter setting in she can feel in her bones the cold of the day of her attack and she is beginning to freeze. Dark and ominous, this book is a slow burning psychological thriller. Will Emilia survive the onslaught of returning pain? Will the people who love her?
With unexpected twists this book is more than a mystery; but it’s slow pace means it’s not quite a thriller. Emilia is an interesting character and the book is driven by her internal thought processes. She is shaped by her family: her father a poet at heart from El Salvador and her mother a Mexican make-up artist. Her brother Tomás watches her carefully, though he has his own secret identity (he loves his sister’s clothes and makeup). And her boyfriend Ian can tell that something is not quite right in Emilia’s world, but she is not willing to tell him about it.
This book is a powerful reflection on latent harm from old wounds and the ways in which people can try desperately to help one another and still fail miserably. A riveting story of heartbreak that is as beautiful as the black crows that Emilia sees as protectors and with whom she longs to fly away.
Trigger warning: Emilia’s story is shaped around an old tragedy and builds to a tragic ending; this is a book about sexual violence and the serious mental health consequences for a smart, complicated young woman. Suicide and self-harm are here and you should not hand this book to a reader looking for an uplifting ending.
But it is highly recommended to mature, thoughtful readers who can handle the intensity of emotion that comes with guilt layered over pain and the dilemma of a girl staring down a long tunnel of suffering with only hard choices ahead. For sophisticated, safe readers this is an intense and gripping read.
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch