Synopsis from Goodreads.
A deadly contagion races through England…
Isabel and her family have nowhere to run from a disease that has killed half of Europe. When the world she knows and loves ends forever, her only weapon is courage.
The Black Death of 1349 was the deadliest plague in human history. All Fall Down is a powerful and inspiring story of survival in the face of real life horror.
To me, historical books are like wagon wheels*.
No not like an actual wheel for a wagon… um… no, I mean the biscuit. The delicious, delicious biscuit.
Let me explain. I don’t have wagon wheels very often but when I do I savour them, love them, vow to eat more of them and get marshmallow in my hair. Similarly with historical YA. I don’t read many of them but when I do I savour them, love them, vow to read more of them and get marshmallow in my hair.
I’ve spent the last few hours searching my house for a project I did in primary school about the Black Death. It was actually on the plague when it was around in 1665 which, I’m a bit reluctant to admit, I thought was the only plague. Is that a common misconception or am I just ridiculous? You see, I had it all planned out that I would end this review with a clever “Oh… I hope Sally Nicholls writes a sequel to this book, she could call it ‘Fetch the Water’ or something.” But I guess seeing as the Great Fire of London was over 300 years later… it wouldn’t really be a sequel would it? Is there a time limit for sequels?
Either way, with the risk of sounding morbid, I was obsessed and I honestly couldn’t tell you the amount of times I dragged my dad to Eyam, a village in Derbyshire where the inhabitants chose to isolate themselves to stop the plague spreading. I think I actually uttered the phrase “I wish we lived in a Plague Cottage” once before I snaffled an entire bag of Derbyshire fudge.
I don’t actually know why I told you that because like I said, All Fall Down is actually set 300 years before this time but I guess that’s the reason I picked this book up. Sometimes it’s wonderful being a bit thick because if it weren’t for my lack of historical knowledge (and my creepy morbid love of all things plaguey) then I would never have picked up this book and that would have been a terrible shame. I even learnt things, guys! I know. I know.
Like Ms Anderson Coats before her, Ms Nicholls writes such an original and fascinating story about a period that, let’s face it, doesn’t get much air time in YA fiction. But you can tell that she wrote this book not because it’s a bit different and will definitely get her a publishing deal (which she actually already had) but because she was genuinely enthralled about the era and the history. This research that must have gone into this book is absolutely remarkable. You can really tell that Ms Nicholls loved writing this book and it makes a whole world of difference when you read a book written by an author who is passionate about their subject. If you can’t imagine what Northern England would look like in the 14th Century pick up this book. If you can’t imagine what Northern England would feel like in the 14th Century, again pick up this book.
Be warned though, no details are spared. I probably don’t need to tell you that this book is extremely grim and incredibly moving.
I guess the thing that puts me off from picking up a historical book is that I sometimes find it difficult to relate to the story. The only thing I know about that period (after a cheeky look online) is facts and figures and geography. The glorious thing about this book is that Ms Nicholls breathed life into these facts and by adding a personal feel to it. It not only makes it more accessible. The characters, both main and peripheral, were so believable and, perhaps more importantly within a historical book, accurate. I completely believed in Isabel and there was never once a moment where I thought she was just a modern girl with modern problems shoved into a petticoat. I really loved Isabel. She isn’t perfect and she’s not always likeable, but she’s fourteen and the world is falling apart around her and she has to grow up, even if she doesn’t want to and she doesn’t feel ready for the responsibilities that she now faces. Isabel is frightened, alone and extremely lost… yet she continues on, regardless of everything. I guess having your loved ones dying and being buried unceremoniously in a field does that to a girl.
If reading a book about the plague is off-putting, and it is a bit grim in places, I would still wholeheartedly recommend reading this one. The characters, their relationships, the setting, the era would really take your mind off things if you’re feeling a bit squeamish.
If reading a book about the plague is getting you all giddy because you love dystopian books … well, this actually happened.
Can you get better than that? Nope.
This book was wonderful and a complete surprise.
Now how about that 300 years later sequel…?
*Yes, I am comparing books to wagon wheels. Have I lost my reviewer’s edge? Did I ever even have an edge?