Sixteen-year-old Max Friedman has an unusual way of dealing with his mother’s death: he imagines that the brain tumor that killed her has moved into his head. The tumor taunts and teases him, preventing him from moving on, enjoying life, and participating in school. Max’s father sees him struggling, but doesn’t know what’s going on in his son’s mind. He moves Max to an artsy private school where he makes new friends, gains encouragement from his advisor, and auditions for the school play. Throughout these transitions, the tumor resides in Max’s consciousness and complicates his already troubled life.
Max is a complex narrator. With artful but spare writing, Pixley creates a sympathetic and believable character. It is especially refreshing to read a YA book with a thoughtful and sensitive male as the main character. Max’s friends at his new school are likable and feel real, too.
Max and his family observe Jewish rituals, traditions, and holidays throughout Ready to Fall. From Max’s mom’s funeral and shiva to a Hanukkah celebration with a friend from synagogue, the details of Jewish life are effortlessly woven throughout the story.
Though the beginning of the book is very sad due to Max’s mother’s death, the reader isn’t stuck in mourning. Instead, we cheer Max on, hoping he can move out of grief’s stranglehold and take advantage of the opportunities and friendships at his new school.
Highly recommended for ages 14 to 18.