The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 by Harriet Goodwin

The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 book cover
Rating 7.5/10
A heart-warming fantasy tale with some beautiful touches.

For a millionth of a second the car grazed the drenched moorland. If it had come down on any other patch of ground Finn would simply have been another statistic. Death by dangerous driving. But the car hit the surface of the Earth at Exit 43. It slid through the membrane like a hot knife through butter, plunging into the darkness and catapulting Finn from its shattered windscreen as it fell.

Finn Oliver knows he'll never come to terms with his father's death, but joy-riding over the moors in his mum's beat-up old car is a quick fix of freedom and forgetting. Until the accident happens - and Finn finds himself hurtling through the wafer-thin divide between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Harriet Goodwin's debut novel is a fantasy tale ideal for ages 9-12. It has some lovely touches and is based on a fresh and imaginative concept, using a delicate, understated sense of humour. The dead, 150 years after they first died (called the inbetween years) take spirit form in the Underworld. By use of the titular exits they are then able to visit loved ones and relatives (not necessarily the same thing) and help improve their lives through tiny acts of kindness. I think that this is a wonderful notion; a real heart-warming way to look at what is normally a morose subject. The book also deals delicately with the death of a parent and explains that when a parent dies to soon, leaving a child to grow up without them, their soul is released to shine as a star, the child's own bright angel.

The boy who falls down Exit 43 is called Finn. Finn has recently lost his father and is grieving. But his mother is so caught up in her own grief that she is not able to be there for him when he needs her most. In the Underworld we have Jessie, a lonely, unhappy soul who has just finished her inbetween years and is desperate to discover when her parents and brother will be joining her (she needs to see their gravestones). The lives/afterlives of these two youngsters have always been destined to cross and only they can help save the Underworld from destruction.

The chapter where Jessie goes up the exit into the world above presents us with the upsetting scene of an eleven-year old girl looking at her own gravestone, and that of her family. It is a touching and sad moment.

“The upper part of the headstone was nearly clear of moss. Jessie began to trace the inscription with a trembling finger.

In loving memory of Jessica Emily Sherratt
Beloved daughter and sister
1848-1859

She lurched forward. Seeing it written there like that made her feel all shaky.”
The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43: Chapter 3 - The Other Side

The framework for the story is superb and the first 100 pages are really very good indeed. The problem I had with the book was that the remainder fell into a routine quest/prophecy formula that seemed to lose some of the charm that had previously been established. Finn and Jessie are both strong characters and Goodwin does a grand job in filling out Finn but unfortunately Jessie does not receive the same attention. I felt that she needed to show us more of Jessie's life when she was still alive, and given the reader a look at the relationship with her parents and brother. This would have helped me to understand why she was she was so desperately waiting for them to join her.

It would also have been nice to learn more about the acts of kindness that the dead do for their living relatives. I did enjoy this book, it was an effortless read and will be greatly enjoyed by older children. There are many beautiful moments and its themes are handled with great care. The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 marks an impressive debut for Harriet Goodwin.

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