Monday, January 28, 2019

Book Review: "The Falconer" by Dana Czapnik

Lucy is a high school student growing up in New York in 1993. She's a so-called "pizza bagel"—a mix of Jewish and Italian heritage. She's not afraid to speak her mind, even if it's to trash-talk, and she's a talented basketball player, comfortable playing among men and boys—and she knows she's good, too.

"I'm not just the leading scorer at my school, I'm the leading scorer in the entire league for two years running, which you would think would garner me the same amount of respect Percy gets. But I'm a girl, and I'm really tall and I don't have Pantene-commercial hair and I'm not, let's say, une petite fleur, so everyone just assumes I'm a lesbian."

As tough as Lucy appears, she also has a vulnerable side, especially when it comes to her best friend, Percy. He's the heir to a major fortune, and things come easy to him, but he likes to pretend he's poor, likes to talk about how horrible America is and how hard people have it. Lucy is in love with Percy, and although she knows he doesn't feel the same way about her, she isn't willing to give up hope, but she also isn't willing to follow him with lovesick stars in her eyes.

"Even though I know Percy isn't remotely interested in Sarah as a person, he likes her in a way he'll never like me, so our jealousy of each other is mutual and equally damaging, which I recognize with the left side of my brain. But I'm a creature forever ruled by the right, the part that holds what a more sentimental person might call the whims of the heart."

Lucy doesn't understand why men and boys are treated differently than women, and even portrayed differently in art. Her favorite statue in Central Park is called "The Falconer," and it depicts a boy releasing a falcon into the wind. She resents how girls and women would be depicted as girlish, afraid of the world around him, yet this boy appears powerful and strong. That's what she wants to have.

Dana Czapnik's debut novel follows Lucy as she struggles with her relationship with Percy, with self-esteem and what her peers think of her, and having to confront the uglier parts of life, people, and the betrayal of trust. Lucy has courage but how do you keep strong in the face of adversity, how do you continue to have self-confidence when you're constantly getting knocked down?

I found Lucy to be a very well-drawn, vivid character. I've seen some comparison to Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, and while I don't really see that, she definitely has a memorable, sometimes acerbic, sometimes vulnerable voice that sticks with you. She is a character you root for, one you take into your heart.

While I loved her character, I struggled with the book overall. At times I felt as if it was told in a stream-of-consciousness style, with long play-by-plays of basketball games and meanderings through New York history, art history, etc. It just didn't hold my attention as much as it hoped, so I found myself skimming through certain parts of the book.

When The Falconer worked, it worked well. It made you feel with, and for, Lucy. While for me, the book was uneven, it clearly demonstrates that Czapnik is a storyteller with a great future, one whose work I'll be watching for.

NetGalley and Atria Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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