Struggling with a Secret

In Falling, veteran young-adult writer Doug Wilhelm '74 depicts teenage turmoil with authenticity and sensitivity

At school, ninth-grader Matt Shaw seems like a regular kid. He's a solid student, comes from a middle-class family, and lives in a good neighborhood in an all-American small town.

But behind the accent of normalcy, Matt's family life is falling apart. His older brother, who still lives at home, has begun using drugs, and Matt is afraid to tell anyone because he doesn't want his brother to go to jail. His parents, well-meaning but distracted, haven't caught on yet. And Matt, struggling with the implications of his secret, has become withdrawn, giving up his spot on the basketball team and pulling away from his best friend, KJ.

He wonders what life is all about, or even if it's worth figuring out--until he meets Katie, a sparkling fifteen-year-old classmate who loves to ask questions.

Falling, Doug Wilhelm's eleventh novel for young adults, takes on two tough subjects: falling in love and falling out of innocence. It's not new territory for Wilhelm, whose 2003 young adult novel The Revealers told the story of three seventh graders who are beleaguered by bullies and decide to confront their tormenters and the culture that fosters bullying behavior.

The Revealers was based on Wilhelm's research and his own experiences as an adolescent, and it touched a nerve across the country. Hundreds of schools, libraries, and communities have used the book as a platform for exploring the problem of bullying and how kids can deal with it, and Wilhelm has visited schools to talk with discussion and support groups.

Falling (published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2007) promises to have a similar impact. With authentic main characters and a plot as taut as a mystery novel, it depicts teenage turmoil with honesty and sensitivity. Matt's journey from disaffection to confrontation takes him through some pretty rough patches, but in the end, he discovers that there are some people you can trust. It's a lesson that will resonate with kids from all backgrounds.

--Traci Vogel