I don’t think Alex Flinn’s novels and I are meant to be together. Towering is the second book I’ve read from her Modern Fairy Tale Retellings collection, and I didn’t care for it any more than I cared for Cloaked. I wasn’t impressed by the movie version of her book Beastly, either, but I’m not sure I can hold that against her since movie adaptations tend not to live up to their book inspirations, anyway.
Towering is a retelling of Rapunzel, a fairy tale I’m particularly fond of. In Flinn’s version of the story, a young man named Wyatt Hill travels to the small town of Slakkill, New York, to stay for a few months with the family of one of his mother’s childhood friends. The point of Wyatt’s visit is to give him time and space to recover from a personal tragedy, but instead of simply finding solace in the trip, Wyatt finds a mystery.
Like Wyatt, the citizens of Slakkill are no strangers to tragedy. There’s a history of young people disappearing from the town, though whether the missing teens are runaways, drug addicts, or kidnapping victims remains a matter of debate in Slakkill. Wyatt begins investigating the disappearances, spurred by curiosity as well as strange dreams, visions, and voices that no one but he can hear. His search leads him to a ramshackle tower in the middle of the woods, where he discovers a beautiful, lonely girl named Rachel.
I always appreciate new interpretations of old fairy tales, so I’m glad I had the chance to see Flinn’s version of Rapunzel. However, when a fairy tale is full of insipid characters and magic that’s a little too convenient to be believable, I just don’t care for it. Everyone in the story, from Wyatt and Rachel to the people of Slakkill to the cheesily evil villains, is Boring with a capital B. Wyatt, especially, bothered me. He’s too bland and vanilla, with nothing that makes him stand out. He’s a nice guy – there’s no doubt about that – but there’s nothing more that I can say about him.
Rachel, at least, has a reason for her dullness. She’s been shut up in a tower for more than half of her life, with classical novels as her only reference to what the outside world is like. She’s never seen a dog, used a flushing toilet, or held a conversation with anyone besides her “Mama.” She doesn’t even know what year it is. It’s no wonder, then, that she’s childish and inexperienced. She’s never been exposed to outsiders, and it’s not like she’s had much of an opportunity to develop a unique personality, relationships, or really any real memories.
That being said, Rachel does display admirable courage and grace when she is finally exposed to the outside world. It would be terrifying to face an unfamiliar world after years of confinement and seclusion, but Rachel handles herself with aplomb. Though she does need help from Wyatt, she conquers her fear and uncertainty to become a hero in her own right. Rachel’s ability to achieve so much through her own strength and spirit is the one thing I truly loved about this book, even if the overall plot and characters didn’t do it for me.