A bittersweet love story, Siobhan Ellis
13 October 2020
“‘Promise me you won’t try to die,’ I said. ‘Ever.’
‘Promise me you won’t either,’ he countered.
‘It’s not really something I can control.’”
Catch Me When You Fall, the second novel written by Eileen Merriman, is an extremely emotional read. Though the novel may have a classic, clichéd storyline of two young teens finding love for the first time, Eileen Merriman succeeds in hooking the reader with a plot twist of two common, severe diseases that have the opportunity to interfere with the young and irrational love between the teens.
Alex Byrd, a seventeen-year-old girl living in the familiar setting of Christchurch, had thought that she had conquered the Leukemia Beast and was on track to leaving the chemo, the isolation, the loneliness, and the fear behind. Yet with the results of a routine blood test came her worst fear; that her leukemia had in fact returned. On that same day, Alex met her soon to be boyfriend, the charming yet strange James, often referred to as Jamie, Orange. As Alex describes it, the day she discovered her leukemia was both the best and worst day of her life. Meeting Jamie had triumphed over the uncontrollable fear and frustration that her leukemia had returned. Eileen Merriman does a fantastic job in creating a character that is easily relatable to teenagers today. Alex may have leukemia, but she still goes through the same phases all teenagers experience. She finds love, true friends, and most importantly; herself.
Within the first three chapters of Catch Me When You Fall, the reader is introduced to Alex Byrd and her life. Opening in a Christchurch hospital, the novel is quick to share that Alex is a survivor of a familiar disease, cancer, or more specifically, leukemia. Alex is an easy character to relate to with all her troubles in high school. She believes that her best friend is replacing her, that she is an outcast, and that she does not belong anywhere. Alex has a bitter attitude towards her mother, common amongst teenagers. She feels as though her mother is holding her back. As the novel continues, the blood test Alex had at the hospital brings with it an extremely disappointing revelation; that Alex’s leukemia has returned. By this point in the story, the intended audience, young adults, has connected with Alex and understands the pain and anger she feels towards the results. Through her pain and anger, Alex remains to build a relationship with Jamie, which soon turns into young love.
Amid a time of fear and uncertainty, the relationship between Alex and Jamie blossoms into something more. I find that I either love or hate the protagonists in Merriman’s novels. Though Alex grows to believe that she has no real hope in surviving her relapse, doctors, friends, and family repeatedly tell her otherwise. As demonstrated in the novel, Alex becomes distant from friends and family whilst her state worsens. She begins to only think of herself and sheltering her emotions from the hurt she would feel if something were to occur between herself and Jamie. In order to protect herself, she commits acts that leaves the reader pondering over whether she is worthy of Jamie’s love. Though the love between the two teens is bittersweet, it was extremely unrealistic how it occurred instantly. Merriman’s narration of Alex’s thoughts throughout the year is excellently written and easy to follow. Relating to Alex and her high school dramas is an easy task for the reader, seeing as everyone experiences self-doubt within themselves at one point or another.
Overall, Eileen Merriman’s second novel Catch Me When You Fall is a captivating, enjoyable, and relatable read. It is easy to see how it became an instant success. Due to the short length of the novel, it can be effortlessly devoured within two to three days. My only complaint is that the romantic relationship between Jamie and Alex formed far too quickly. The events leading up to the conclusion of the novel led me to believe that the ending would be vastly different, but all the same, Catch Me When You Fall had me clinging to hope that Jamie and Alex’s love surpass all the obstacles life put in their path. Shedding a tear or two is not unusual when reading one of Eileen Merriman’s well written novels; especially the emotional Catch Me When You Fall.
– Siobhan Ellis is 15 years old and attends John Paul II High School in Greymouth.