When it comes to Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, YA novelist and literary agent Lindsay Ribar simply set out to write about “a family with weird magic.” The book’s most potent themes—feminism, personal agency, and toxic masculinity—didn’t arise until the last draft.
“I definitely didn’t set out to write about those things,” says Ribar (The Art of Wishing, The Fourth Wish), “but I feel like it’s accidentally sideways a book about how men play into feminism as a concept. A lot of the current YA approach to feminism, generally, is girls doing cool shit and being emotionally complex and physically complex—girls, girls, girls, all over the map—and that is great, I love all those books—but I wanted to approach it from a different angle.”
Aspen Quick, the male narrator of Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, is an arrogant and especially privileged New York City teen—one who, by magic, can “reach” into others to steal their personal traits, memories, intentions, and fears. When he visits tiny Three Peaks, New York, each summer, he performs this act in tandem with his family members. The energy-offerings they extract from the townspeople fortify the Cliff, a menacing, mutable rock formation that would otherwise collapse and kill them all (hence the title):
“Ritual reaching wasn’t the same as everyday reaching,” Ribar writes. “When I reached into people and took stuff away, I usually did one of three things with it: absorbed it into myself, gave it to someone else, or released it. The ritual, though, required pushing my talents in a slightly different direction.”
“Concentrating hard, I guided the energy of the kid’s competitive streak toward the fireplace ... and there is sat, a glowing orb of orange-yellow-purple, actually visible where before it had just been a very solid idea.”
“Grandma put her hand on my shoulder, looking so very proud. ‘Good work, Aspen. Very good. As always.’”
Aspen’s extra-ritualistic reaching is less societally significant: He uses magic to break up Brandy McAllister and Theo Valdez, two school friends visiting Three Peaks with him for the summer. He fast-tracks Brandy into becoming his girlfriend—and removes Theo’s budding anger over it—without ever assessing the implications.
“Nobody has ever really explored how [the reaching] is kind of a terrible idea sometimes,” Ribar says. “He grows up with a sense of incredible entitlement, even more than most dudes have in their lives, and this [summer] is the first time that he really meets somebody who a) knows what’s going on with him, his family, and their magic and b) calls them out on it.”
That person is Leah Ramsey-Wolfe, Three Peaks resident and close friend of Aspen’s cousin Heather, who died recently and mysteriously. Try as he might, Aspen’s magic won’t work on Leah—the reason being just one piece of the puzzling truth about the Quicks, the Cliff, and the town.
A series of startling revelations will lead Aspen to question whether to disavow the family magic for good. In the assessment of Aunt Holly, Heather’s mother, he won’t—or can’t.
“I saw her see me for what I was,” Ribar writes. “Not a person willing and able to make the choice to stop stealing, but a person who preferred to have the choice taken away from him, so he’d never have to make it again.”
Doing the right thing—or discovering what that entails—won’t be easy for Aspen. Ribar acknowledges that she’d be hard-pressed to suppress the ability to reach, if she had the magic power.
“Oh God, I don’t know,” she says. “How could you resist? I tend to err on the side of caution in most things, so I would probably just take little stuff that people would never notice and would never affect anyone....That’s ideally what I would like my answer to be. In reality, I have no idea how that would go.”
Megan Labrise writes “Field Notes” and features for Kirkus Reviews.