Critiques

Star Tribune:
Alice begins by recognizing herself as a seeker. What she comes to understand through the book is that, "when Seekers stop seeking and try to become Dwellers they plunge into another desperation and another struggle." Hers is a finely focused, perfectly calibrated story of finding a balance between the forces that govern society, settling and striving, putting down roots and reaching for the light.
-- Ellen Akins

St. Paul Pioneer Press:
Heynen's gorgeous sense of place is in every detail, including Alice's thoughts about driving into the countryside to talk with Nickson: "They'd go outside the Dutch community, where the names on the mailboxes changed from Van-this and Van-that or De-this and De-that, out of the culture of 'yah shures' into the land of 'hell yeses' and 'damn rights,' where the mailboxes had names like Brekken, Holm, and Rezmerski.”

Heynen's prose is especially poignant when he's writing about failing farms: "... falling off the landscape one broken piece at a time, the old equipment rusting in the grove, the unterraced hillsides giving way to deeper gullies every year, the sway-backed sheds, the leaning mailbox ... slow death, two decades for shingles to wear out, another decade for barn ribs to show, then years of desertion before vandals smashed all the windows."

There is a darkness at the center of this book, which begins with Alice hearing gunshots as a neighbor kills 80 hogs to protest falling prices. It ends with Alice looking to a future that will leave readers debating whether this smart young woman deserved this "fall."


-- Mary Ann Grossman

Booklist

Intelligent, attractive, and confident, Alice Krayenbraak cannot wait to break free from her restrictive Dutch farming community and repressive parents to build a new life at college. But the gunshots on a neighboring farm that starts Heynen’s novel foretell that Alice’s world will quickly and unalterably change. Entering her senior year in high school, Alice is focused on school and her future, but the arrival of the Vang family, Hmong immigrants, into the homogeneous community of Dutch Corners changes
everything. Blinded by her attraction to Nickson Vang, Alice excuses warning signs that her relationship with him is slowly destroying everything that was important to her. As her family’s farm sinks into bankruptcy, Alice comes into increasing conflict with her parents. Heynen’s poetic language vividly depicts the grinding strain of life on a struggling farm and the strict moral code of the Protestant farming community. Heynen finely portrays the complicated character of Alice, a girl at the brink of adulthood
with a promising future but naively willing to put it all at risk for the recklessness of first love.


-- Eve Gaus

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct, 2012:

Meeting Alice Krayenbraak takes readers back to their own high school days — but don’t mistake “The Fall of Alice K.” for a coming-of-age novel. Minnesota writer Jim Heynen’s lovely tale of the small and not-so-small minds of the Midwest in 1999 is much more.
Alice is the 17-year-old daughter of a farm couple on the brink of bankruptcy, and her younger sister is mentally disabled. Alice’s mother is so consumed by her fear of Armageddon — 2000 is only a few months away — that she pays only perfunctory attention to either daughter. So Alice spends her time keeping her grades high enough for a scholarship, helping care for her sister, Aldah, and doing full-time farm chores.

“By five in the afternoon of Sept. 1, Alice was in a same-old same-old place in farm-girl hell. The scene was their cattle feedlot. Seventeen years on planet Earth and this is what it added up to: feeding two hundred thousand pound steers on a sweltering afternoon... Her copy of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ sitting on top of the control panel, tightly wrapped in plastic to protect it from corn and feed supplement dust.”

Heynen signals that things will change for Alice when a Hmong family moves to her Iowa town, Dutch Center, and Alice becomes friends with Nickson, the son. Her parents question the friendship, which eventually blossoms into something more. The relationship with Nickson takes up some of the emptiness she finds when her parents decide Aldah will benefit from being moved to a group home — a decision they make without talking it over with Alice, another example of how minimized she feels in her own family. Is it any wonder she finds Nickson and his attention so appealing?

But in a very small, religious town, the Alice-Nickson pairing stirs up racism and small-town prejudices in nearly everyone. Even Alice’s best friend, Lydia, has her doubts. And while Alice is a regular churchgoer, she questions the prejudices held so closely by so many of those devout people.

What makes this book so readable is Heynen’s skill at making Alice and her parents compelling characters. Most readers will recognize friends or relatives, or big parts of them, in the father’s desperation, the mother’s religious fervor and Alice’s unanswered questions about whether this is all life and God have in store for her.

Just as in real life, not everyone gets a happy ending in “The Fall of Alice K.,” which is made clear by the title. But they do get lessons in life, which are more valuable than those happy endings. Heynen gives readers characters they care about, even if they don’t always like them.
-- Amanda St. Amand

School Library Journal, December, 2012

Gr 11 Up–In Alice’s Dutch Calvinist community in Iowa, many family farms are collapsing and being displaced by corporate agribusiness conglomerates. A high school senior, Alice is an excellent student who’s looking forward to college. Yet her family’s farm is failing; she has a troubled relationship with her emotionally disturbed mother, who is obsessed with the oncoming Y2K apocalypse; and her parents are making plans to send her special-needs sister away. Alice defies her family by befriending and becoming romantically involved with Nickson Vang, a Hmong immigrant who has recently moved to the area. A large part of the novel depicts Alice’s thoughts and perceptions; rather than being driven by action and dialogue, it is an introspective, contemplative exploration of the impact of socioeconomic and political change; cultures in conflict; and the concepts of faith, sin, and guilt. The narrative is that of an adult looking back at adolescence, viewing it through the hindsight of adult sensibilities. Heynen’s novel provides a unique glimpse into a way of life that has rarely been explored in literature. However, although the narrative revolves around a teen protagonist, this title will probably be of very limited interest to teens and would have better circulation in adult collections.

-- Francesca Burgess, Brooklyn Public Library, NY