“Dreams of Falling,” by Karen White

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

Dreams of Falling showcases Karen White’s considerable talents in a moving multi-generational story of complicated friendships, closely-held secrets, a mysterious fire, and suspicious death. A New York Times best-selling author, White has penned over twenty novels beloved by her fans.

Set in Georgetown, South Carolina, Dreams of Falling focuses on two time periods, the early 1950s and 2010. As carefree adolescents in the 1950s, CeeCee, Margaret, and Bitty declare they are “friends forever,” an oath tested by events none of them could have foreseen. The beautiful, wealthy Margaret stars as group leader, a position inviting jealousy. Fractures in their bonds are already evident: “Whether you disguised the green-headed monster with admiration or friendship, it would always be a sharp-toothed beast waiting to pounce.” For five decades, CeeCee and Bitty conceal secrets to protect those they love.

After a tragic accident, Margaret’s child Ivy is raised by CeeCee and Bitty. A talent artist, Ivy faces tragedy in her own life, one that leaves her a somewhat distant mother to her own child, Larkin.

A slightly overweight teen, Larkin suffers from a particularly humiliating encounter with a young man she has long had a crush on just as she is ready to graduate from high school. Larkin flees Georgetown to attend college and then chooses to live in New York City. She has left behind best friends, Mabry and Bennett, as well as her mother and CeeCee and Bitty, all of whom cherish her and want her to come home. Yet they admire the independence that allows Larkin to go off alone to the big city and land a job in an ad agency. None of them are aware of Larkin’s shattered confidence or her lack of connection to others in the city. She keeps others at arm’s length.

When Ivy disappears, Larkin is drawn against her will back to Georgetown to help CeeCee and Bitty find her mother. The story is told in alternating viewpoints: Larkin’s, CeeCee’s, and Ivy’s. The latter is most unusual as Ivy is unconscious following an accident.

Larkin’s presence becomes a catalyst prying loose long-held secrets, forcing everyone to confront their own pasts honestly, a process bringing peace and forgiveness. Larkin finally recognizes the true character of those people she left behind.

White’s craft is evident in her use of purple martins as a symbol: “small birds [that] relied on others to make their homes for them” just as Ivy and Larkin are raised by CeeCee and Bitty. The author also masterfully creates suspense by dangling Bennett early on as a source of tension for Larkin. All readers know is that Larkin cuts off his voicemail—and we want to find out why. White also captures the intensity of young love through CeeCee, who is “on fire with it, with the heat and longing and brightness of it all.” The description is not only apt, but also the imagery links to the mysterious fire at Margaret’s family home. And finally, White’s use of dream interpretation and secret wishes left in a special tree creates a beautiful tale of love, friendship, and sacrifice, a tale delivering this inspiration: “If you can find one good and pure thing to focus on in your life, the rest won’t matter.”

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