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Here’s some background information: I initially won a free copy of All Fall Down on November 8, 2014. (Easy to remember because it’s my mom’s birthday.) Evidently my copy got lost in the mail, and after thoroughly annoying the people at Scholastic with my incessant questions about its whereabouts (it was actually like three questions spaced over two months), I had given up all hope that I would actually get it. And then… one day, a full six months after I won, a sort of battered package showed up in my mailbox. Addressed just to “Sara.” It’s amazing that it actually got delivered. This book was inside, and I was so happy.

I woke up early one Saturday morning, completely unable to fall back asleep. (I’m always asking myself why that never happens when I have to be to work.) There’s not much you can do early on a Saturday morning that wouldn’t wake everyone else up, so I snuck downstairs and curled up with All Fall Down. A couple hours later, I was finished.

So, what did I think? I had built it up a lot in my mind. I mean, as a teenager, I loved Ally Carter’s books, but it’s probably been a good eight or so years since I picked one up. Still, it was pretty good.

The story is pretty unique – Grace, a teenage army brat, is sent to live with her grandfather, an ambassador, at the US Embassy in Adria. She spent her childhood summers there, hopping between Canada, Russia, Germany, and the US on Embassy Row. Always avoiding the now-abandoned Iran. As a child, she was a bit of a daredevil, climbing trees, ignoring rules, jumping off the walls between embassies, breaking just about every bone in her body over the years. So when she arrives at the embassy as teenager, the staff is understandably wary of her.

Grace is kind of the anti-YA heroine. Her mother was killed three years ago, and she’s still dealing with the emotional aftermath. She has flashbacks to that night, to the fire and the gunshots. She has moments of crushing anxiety, where she can barely breathe because the memories of that night are just too much. She sees her mother everywhere, but that’s impossible, because her mother’s dead. She watched it happen. Her family tells her that it was an accident, no foul play was involved, but Grace knows that’s not true. And she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.

But given her location, given the fact that she’s the granddaughter of a US ambassador, one wrong move could end in an international incident. And Grace isn’t exactly known for her poise and restraint. Luckily, she finds friends in the children of other ambassadors who help her learn to be less noticeable, and a little more ninja-like.

Overall, I did really enjoy All Fall Down. I mean, I must have, to read straight through like I did. But there were some things that just didn’t sit right with me.

Like Alexei. He’s Grace’s brother’s best friend, tasked with protecting Grace while her brother is training at West Point. But then he’s sort of a love interest too, fleetingly, as he and Grace share some moments. But then he disappears, and it’s like he never existed. I could never decide what exactly Alexei’s role was supposed to be. It will probably be expanded upon in the next book, but it was frustrating nonetheless.

And also the ending, which was clearly designed to have me waiting with bated breath for the next installment. Which I might be, but I was also so annoyed by the cliffhanger that I’m not totally sure I even want to read the next book. In fact, I subtracted a star for it. Don’t build up to some huge reveal only to stop there!

In the end, All Fall Down is both really great and really frustrating. I feel like it is a really great introduction to a series, but not such a great book on its own. For me, it would be one of those that I’d read once the whole series is out.

Thanks to Goodreads First Reads and the publisher for the free copy! 

Final rating: ★★★☆☆