Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Free Fall by Anna Levine

Posted by Simcha 4:53 AM, under | 4 comments

Aggie is eighteen and getting ready to do her service for the Israeli Army. She could get a cushy assignment—maybe pushing paper somewhere—or she could just take her chances. Only, Aggie isn't like that. Despite her small size and the fact that she needs to gain weight to even make the grade, and despite the total disbelief of her entire family (except her grandmother, who is an old freedom fighter and don't you forget it), Aggie is trying out for an elite combat unit.

Ben—Aggie's crush of the moment—isn't at all convinced that she's making the right choice. Shira, Aggie's best friend forever, is bewildered (and perhaps a bit too interested in Ben). Then there's Noah. And the serendipitous snow. And a good-bye kiss that turns into, well, a real kiss.

Luckily for Aggie, her backbreaking, sand-in-mouth, completely-lost-in-the-desert training produces an unlikely dividend: friends. The kind she never imagined she could have. The kind you'd go to war with—and for.
Aggie has just graduated high school and is preparing to step into the world of adulthood and do her part in serving her country. The only problem is that she doesn't know what she wants to do. Her best friend Shira want to join the entertainment corps and Ben and Ron are eager to get into the army's elite units. Hilla, Aggie's older sister, wants Aggie to join her in the National Service working at schools and hospital and her parents are pushing her to get a nice desk job where she will be far away from any danger. Uncertain about where she fits in but determined to prove herself, Aggie impulsively announces at dinner one night that she will be trying out for the women's elite combat unit. When her family reacts with disbelief, and even laughter, Aggie resolves that she will show her family and friends that she is tougher than they think.

Aggie's uncertainties are not limited to decisions about her future because a surprising kiss from Ben has her wondering if their friendship is heading in a new direction. Or maybe it's Shira that Ben really likes. Aggie herself is suddenly drawn to Shira's brother Noah, who seems to understand her in a way that no one else does.

As Aggie heads off for her first army training session she discovers in herself a reservoir of strength she didn't know she had. New friends and a new romance make life even more interesting though it's the sobering events of the Lebanon War that force Aggie to really prove her mettle and stand up for herself and the choices she has made.

Freefall is a sweet coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who struggles to define herself and find her place, in a country where kids are forced to face adult responsibilities at an early age. This is a story that will resonate with anyone who remembers the uncertainties and awkwardness of being a teenager, despite the foreign setting of the story.

Aggie is a strong and likable heroine who is easily believable and is surrounded by a colorful cast of side characters who are each memorable figures in their own right. Aggie's grandmother is former freedom fighter who glories in telling tales about how the country used to be. Lily, Aggie's new friend from field training, uses humor and sarcasm to get herself through the grueling military testing. And there is Noah, the quiet, guitar playing soldier who has attracted Aggie's interest and is so different from his theatrical sister Shira, Aggie's best friend. Each of these characters felt solid and real and left me wanting to know more about their individual stories.

Though I particularly liked Freefall for the personal reason that it so perfectly reflects the Israel that I know and love and wish that everyone else also recognized. People have all kinds of strange ideas as to what it's like in Israel and they focus on the terrorist attacks and the gun-totting soldiers, as if it's a constant war zone here. But Israel is a beautiful country made up of an exotic mix of cultures and for the most part life here is the same as anywhere else (except that we don't have Sundays off, which is real drag). Those gun-totting soldiers are really just teenagers who deal with the same issues and anxieties as teenagers world-over, which Levine so well demonstrated through Aggie, Lily, Noah and their friends. And while the wars and terrorist attacks are devastating these are also the times when people's best qualities are brought out, as Levine demonstrates as well.

The only complaint I have about freefall is that I wish it were longer and and I do hope that Levine plans to continues Aggie's story in another book. It's a pretty light and easy read, one that I finished in just a couple of hours (during which time I didn't put it down at all) but left me fully satisfied. I particularly enjoyed the ending because it reminded me of something similar that had once happened to a friend of mine.

Freefall is a book that I would highly recommend to both teens and adults. It's charming and entertaining and offers readers a unique glimpse into the life of an Israeli teenager.


Great review. I have not read a book set in modern Israel since this Shifra Horn book and I did enjoy that one

Blodeuedd: I haven't read any of Shira Horn's books but all the books I've read about Israel put it in such a depressing light (such as David Grossman's Someone to Run with and Naomi Regan's books) that I really enjoyed the fact that Freefall actually showed a bit of what normal life is like here.

hi simcha. i haven't heard of this book before but it sounds interesting. i agree with your comment above and i think i'm going to look more into it.

This is a different coming of age story and one that appeals to me. I am intrigued by the fact that it reflects the Israel that you know. You're right; when I think of the army (any army actually), I think of hardened men. Not teenagers or young women. It sounds like this book will shatter many misconceptions.

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