Saturday, April 14, 2012

All Fall Down

All Fall DownAll Fall Down by Sally Nicholls

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

People often have entire lists of things they fear, but one of those fears usually stands out, stronger than all the others. For me, that’s fear of germs and infectious diseases. Deciding to read All Fall Down was a way for me to face my worst fear, and although it took me a while to get through it, in the end, I’m very glad I did.

Between 1348 and 1350, the Black Death killed anywhere from one third to half of European population, after wiping out tens of millions of people in Asia. In the small village Ingleforn, Isabelle is living peacefully with her father, stepmother and her siblings when the rumors of plague start trickling in. In a matter of months, England is consumed by this horrible disease and no one seems to know what causes it or how to defend from it. Isabelle’s brother Geoffrey is living in the monastery where he is most exposed and she worries about him daily, but there’s nothing to be done to ensure his safety. It doesn’t take long for the Black Death to find its way to Ingleforn, and as it spreads, death becomes everyday occurrence and all anyone can hope for is to get their last rites in time.

Sally Nicholls did an excellent job in creating the atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, that, combined with ignorance, produced both anger and malice. Gossip is spread faster than the illness, and people are targeted by fortune tellers and salesmen, selling everything from incense to fake bones of saints that are supposed to protect from the disease. Prayer is the answer to everything and those who fall ill must have been cohorting with the devil. In this world, women are outraged when they get permission to hear confessions from the ill, because if women are allowed to do what priests can, the world is surely coming to an end.

How do you keep yourself safe? That’s the next question, the one everyone wants an answer to. Surely there are medicaments and spells, surely someone, somewhere has found a way? The preachers hiss. “By loving God and begging His forgiveness. By turning from the devil and all his works.”

This isn’t a story of a noble young heroine who is fearless and brave in the face of this horrible disease. Isabelle is just as lost, scared and sometimes even selfish as anybody else would be under those circumstances. Sally Nicholls did not try to make a saint out of her, but a normal little girl, a middle child at that, in no way special or outstanding, at times terrified and at times completely numb.

Even though All Fall Down didn’t teach me anything new since we’d covered this period extensively back in high school, I’m still more aware of it now, this darkest time in human history. It’s much easier to understand tragedy through names and faces than through numbers, even if those names and faces are fictional. Millions of girls like Isabelle died and lost their families, but I’ll always think of her and her generous stepmother when someone mentions the Black Death.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher, Scholastic UK, for review purposes.


  1. It always amazes me when I hear the number of deaths due to this and even more so with The Spanish Influenza. I can't imagine living in a time when so many people are dropping dead all around you!

    That being said, Maja, I'm surprised you read this, with your fear of germs!! I applaud you. It sounds like a moving story. Brilliant review. :)

  2. Great review today Maja! Aren't you glad that we live in the age of bleach and antibiotics?

    On the other hand...those things have undoubtedly contributed to the breeding of superbugs so... :-|

    I love books about the plague. (Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is a favorite.)

    1. Haha, you bet I am. Bleach totally saved the world. I haven't read Doomsday Book but I really need to. I heard great things.

  3. I only know a little bit of the black death since we haven't gotten to it in history class yet, but from what I do know, it was awful and brutal and fearful and unexpected, and I'm glad that the author portrays that part well! But my favourite part is how you said that Isabelle was just a regular terrified girl -- not self-sacrificing or completely bad-ass, but the kind of realistic girl you'd see around the streets during the plague. It would make it so much easier to connect with her and her story! :)

    Absolutely beautiful and true review, Maja! <3 I really need to add this to my TBR list!

  4. Look at you facing your fears. ;) I get a little OCD about germs and diseases occasionally but it probably isn't as bad for me as it is for you. The Black Death is a pretty gruesome topic to read about! I haven't heard of this book before but it sounds like it could be a memorable read. Awesome review, Maja. :)

  5. I haven't seen this book around, but it definitely sounds intriguing. Historical books are usually not my thing, but the black death is an interesting topic. I'm glad Isabelle is kept realistic! I like realistic and relatable protagonists. :) Wonderful review, Maja! Well-written and honest, as always.

  6. Such a beautiful and thoughtful review, Maja! I agree, it much easier to understand the world through names and faces than through numbers. There is something more intimate in remembering through personal story. It's too bad that you don't get to learn anything new about the black death period from this book. One thing I love most from reading historical fiction is the knowledge of how people spent their life at that time. :)

    I love the sound of this book, so I really need to add this to my wishlist! Like you, the germ freaks me out so I think this book might be a challenge for me too LOL! Thank you for bringing this book to my attention! :)

  7. Congratulations on facing your fear. And this review is gorgeous. Normally I don't go for these types of books, but seriously? You may have convinced me to read it! Thanks Maja. You know you're amazing.

  8. Oooh, this book looks great, Maja! I've never heard of this one before. It sounds really different :)

    Brilliant review, my love!

  9. Wow this sounds so good. I read Pillars of the Earth a couple of years ago and it covered this same era. Horrible..I can't even imagine. This book would be fascinating. I will definitely add it to my ever growing list. So glad you are back :)

  10. I haven't heard of this book before but it sounds awesome! I definitely need to add this book to my TBR!

    Awesome review, Maja! ♥ So glad you enjoyed it! :)

  11. This book sounds really good Maja! I bet you're glad you faced your fears by picking up this one! Great review! :)


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