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When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.
– Henry Ford  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 5 May 2020  

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  “Freefall”
  By Robin Widmar

   With so many titles on the market today, it can be challenging for readers to find books that will hold their interest from the first word to the last. “Freefall” by Jessica Barry might fill that role.
   
   The opening scene is a well-crafted attention grabber. Allison Carpenter is the lone survivor of a small plane crash in the Colorado mountains. Injured and lacking adequate clothing and supplies, she is focused on survival in the unforgiving Rockies. “Stay alive” becomes her mantra as she scavenges through the wreckage for anything to help her do just that. Allison’s terse first-person account of her situation creates an immediate sense of urgency. But questions also begin to arise: Who is this woman? How did she manage to survive the crash? And what scares her so much that she would rather flee into the wilderness than await eventual rescue near the crash site?
   
   The next chapter belongs to Allison’s mother, Maggie, who is simply going about her day at home in Owl’s Creek, Maine. Maggie’s leisurely paced narrative provides a sense of pleasant normalcy in contrast with Allison’s frenetic cadence. Then the town police chief, who is a longtime acquaintance, shows up at Maggie’s door to tell her about the plane crash. Officials believe no one survived.
   
   The story alternates back and forth between Allison’s and Maggie’s points of view. Allison struggles to put distance between her and the plane wreckage. She has perseverance on her side, as well as rudimentary outdoor skills learned from her late father. Always in her mind, though, is an unseen threat that drives her. “I don’t know how much time I have before they come looking for me, but I know they’ll come eventually, and that means I have to keep moving,” she says.
   
   At first, Allison refuses to allow memories from her former life to intrude on her efforts to survive. But eventually she explains the reasons she was on that plane, parceling out her story a piece at a time. Hers is a tale of early success followed by failure, questionable decisions and second chances. However, her rise from the proverbial ashes comes with a heavy price, and redemption could cost her everything.
   
   Meanwhile, Maggie is already dealing with life after the death of her husband, Charles, two years earlier. Now she must also cope with the loss of her daughter. Compounding her grief is the fact that she and Allison haven’t spoken since Charles’ passing. Still, Maggie clings to an impossible hope. “She’s alive,” she says. “Ally is a tough kid. I’m sure she’s alive.” But when crews reach the crash site, they cannot locate Allison’s remains but declare that no one could have survived. Maggie faces a crushing, harsh reality with sorrow only a mother could know. “How was my heart still beating in my chest when it felt so irreparably broken?”
   
   As details emerge in the press about Allison’s “new” life as the fiancée of a wealthy pharmaceutical company owner, Maggie realizes she knows nothing about the woman her daughter had become. Maggie is a retired librarian who knows how to find information, so she decides to dig deeper. What she uncovers inadvertently puts the same target on her back that Allison wears.
   
   “Freefall” is an engaging suspense story with underlying themes of resilience, human consequences of corporate greed and the unconditional love that binds mother and child. The strong female protagonists should appeal to many readers, and the secrets that each character hides make for a compelling storyline. The writing is artful and efficient, with pacing carefully adjusted to suit the actions. Barry also has a knack for conveying conversations in a natural way that doesn’t rely on clunky dialogue tags. The plot twists –- especially at the end -– might be predictable to some readers, but they will surprise others. Readers should note that rough language is sprinkled throughout the book, but it is appropriate to the characters and situations.
   
   I would be remiss if I didn’t note a few incongruities. At times, the description of the wilderness feels more like East Coast forests than the Rocky Mountains, and wildlife is noticeably absent from the scenery. There is an unresolved loose end involving a pet. A hunting rifle with a scope is impossibly stowed “under the passenger seat” of a small car. Twice.
   
   But these are all relatively minor flaws in an otherwise well-written story. “Freefall” is a compelling read that should keep readers turning the pages late into the night.
  
 
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