"Sierra Falls," Veronica Wolff

Pros: Fun, quirky small-town personalities
Cons: I feel like I just mainlined a bunch of Hallmark channel specials. Anyone got the antidote?
Rating: 2 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

When Sorrow’s older siblings fled the small town they grew up in, Sorrow remained behind to run the family lodge and tavern. Then a freak accident at the lodge causes her to find a bunch of old family relics, including letters about her ancestor’s forbidden love affair. After that, the freak accidents start to pile up, until they no longer look like accidents any more. Luckily the town’s new sheriff, Billy Preston, a widower who finds Sorrow engaging and fun, is more than happy to look into the problems. First he’ll have to convince the rest of the town that anything untoward is going on of course, and then there’s the problem that Sorrow already has a boyfriend—the town’s wealthy golden boy, who’s all too happy to jump in with a fix any time Sorrow has a problem.


 

I really wanted to like Veronica Wolff’s Sierra Falls. Sorrow is an interesting point of view character, and there are plenty of fun small-town, quirky, gossipy characters to keep things entertaining. The suspense aspect is more of a background plot almost, so it adds little tension until the climax of the book; and since I don’t want to spoil anything, I’ll just say that the solution felt like a bit of a deus ex machina in some ways.

What ruined an otherwise decent book for me, however, is the fact that the author felt the need to take every single personality conflict in the book and reduce it to a misunderstanding that could be easily fixed by having someone else point out the problem, and then having each person try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Everyone meant well. Everyone was just misunderstood. Not a single person (except the villain, and for various reasons I don’t want to explain so as to avoid spoilers, that doesn’t really count) was really being malicious; not a single pair of people had truly irreconcilable differences.

Now, seeing one or two relationships in a book work themselves out this way is fine, and can create a wonderfully moving closure or climax to a book. However, seeing every single one go this way felt like a sermonizing author ramming a bunch of Hallmark channel specials down the reader’s throat, pushing a message that no really, if we just looked harder, we’d see that every single person we disliked or had problems with was just misunderstood. It completely grated on my nerves. This is one of those cases where less is more—a couple of examples would have been much more believable and powerful than ramming it home time after time. It’s also the sort of book where everyone has a talent or skill with which they can make a measurable and wonderful difference in the world if only they seize (or are given) the opportunity. Again, a powerful message in moderation and a frustratingly overblown one when applied to everyone and everything. A lighter hand would have significantly improved Sierra Falls in my eyes.

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