A Mystical Journey of Self-Discovery and Gender-Identity

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A Mystical Journey of Self-Discovery and Gender-Identity

I would like to start by saying that I chose the audiobook for this read. And it made ALL the difference!

The summary for 'We All Fall Down' is short, sweet, and intentionally ambiguous. Description and cover in mind, I was expecting a magical feel-good YA reminiscent of Harry Potter x Percy Jackson with queer overtones.

What I got could not have been farther from my expectations.

The story starts with a prologue traditional of YA Fantasy.
Significant events unfolded and because they did (in the way that they did) we are looking at something akin to a prophecy. When the forementioned individuals are brought together, magic will be returned to the land or else it will die away completely.

This is the LAST time the story fits into the fantasy molds you might be expecting. (And that's saying something considering the fact that it is claiming on the dustjacket to put its best non-binary foot forward.)

Chapter 1 takes a jarring sprint into the modern world. Here we meet Jesse, our teenaged protagonist who is struggling to find their place in the world while unraveling the mystery of their missing friend. From there we meet our other key players:

Jack, the spunky queer tomboy enforcer with a man's name.
David, the misunderstood black professor.
Turning, the eight-legged trans 'monster'.

The narrative is compelling from the very beginning. Setting up the kind of simmering suspense that leaves you wondering when the 'other' shoe will drop. However, trying to muddle through the changing pronouns can easily prove overwhelming while trying to navigate the author's fantastical world building. For this reason, the narration was instrumental in allowing me to sit back and take events as they happened rather than getting caught up in the details of who was speaking or what was being said.

Confusing pronouns are anything but an editorial oversight. They are a call to normalize genderfluidity. In fact, self-identity seems to be the theme at large. The thing that remains consistent between the changing characters and narratives is that they all struggle with inherent doubts about who they are. This is only compounded by the fact that River City's 'underbelly' belongs primarily to witches and anthropomorphic beings. Which, again, is completely commonplace.

Our settings take place on the 'mainland' (think of it as the non-magical 'muggle' world of Harry Potter) and River City.

If anything, the reader is 'thrown into the deep end' of Szabo's world and challenged not to overthink anything other than the mystery at hand. The mystery of who is committing atrocious murders in River City and why.

By time you really start to feel 'settled' into the world, at least a quarter of the story has already progressed which may be challenging for many YA readers. Typically, it would be enough for me to DNF, but because I was listening to the audio, I was a captive audience. I was able to remove myself from the semantics and connect with the characters in a way that I know I would not have been able to otherwise. Before long, I found myself hooked and desperate to know what happened next.

I do not know, however, if the content of the story really classifies it as a YA. The cover art is really deceptive in that way. Though description is kept to a minimum or glossed over almost entirely, topics like sex work, murder, and police brutality are also normalized throughout.

Romance, however, is a prevalent undercurrent without being centerstage. Which I appreciated. Attraction was 'ever present' in the way you might expect a teenaged brain to be hardwired. Always posing the questions of 'if' while leaving the possibilities open-ended.

All in all, We Fall Down is not the book I was expecting. It was so much more.

I will update my review once I get through the last few chapters (which I was hoping to have finished by release day- oops) but for now I feel strangely satisfied by the identity-positivity and friendship at the center of this tale.

(At the end of the day I guess it would feel more like Once Upon a Time meets Mask of Shadows and Into the Crooked Place.)


We All Fall Down has self-identity and acceptance at the core of a modern magical mystery reminiscent of several modern-day fairy-tale retellings. The narrative alternates between four key protagonists who all provide different insights into the world and magic system at large which is very well developed.

The story may feel bogged down at times by erroneous details and confusing pronouns, But that is exactly the reason why I would recommend choosing the audiobook over the hard copy and turning off any preconceived notions you may have as a well-seasoned reader. (Easier said than done.)

With the exception of a character with a lisp in the prologue, the narrator does a MARVELOUS job of keeping the voices distinct and the story flowing. She may be a bit soft-spoken or slower-paced (think AMSR) in her reading, but that only allowed me to listen at 1.5x without missing anything. My only critique would be the fact that every 'he/she/they said' is spoken aloud ad nauseum, but I do think that was an intentional choice to normalize genderfluidity and quickly became easy to tune out.

Keep an open mind and I think this one will really surprise you.