Kate Allen has lived through a lot of trauma in her 15 years. Her mother left when she was a child, her father died before her eyes, and she was sent from the family-run B&B in New York City to live with her sister in a student-housing complex in London. Unable to deal with her grief, Kate lapses into self-loathing and isolation, develops memory-triggering fears to smells and tight spaces, and can’t seem to fit in at her new private school. She is in a bad way, and it takes time-travelling through a mysterious tunnel to Tudor England, assuming the identity of a young Katherine of Aragon, and adapting to a foreign, dangerous era to pull her out of it.
The concept of sending a troubled teen who couldn’t care less about history smack dab into the middle of it is interesting and on trend. Saskatchewan writer and educator Beverley Brenna hones in on the details of daily life in the Tudor court, including dining habits, hygiene, housekeeping, and fashion, while highlighting the era’s overarching attitudes and beliefs. For example, Kate hears details of the many executions of accused witches and of the king’s order to exterminate all wolves in the realm, calling attention to misogynistic beliefs and a disregard for the natural and animal worlds. By tempering these popular mindsets of the time with Kate’s observations of the social and physical conditions that lead to them, Brenna encourages readers to judge the past in context.
The story’s action and drama set the stage for an exciting, emotional climax that unfortunately, never really materializes. Death and escape, an explanation for the time-travel tunnel, the meeting between Kate and the real Katherine of Aragon, and a new romantic plot for the young protagonist all spring up at the end of the novel, causing the story to feel rushed. That being said, Falling for Henry – part historical fiction, part fantasy, and part coming-of-age story – is an original and compelling depiction of a young person’s struggle through grief, and a thoughtful glimpse into a period that is often oversimplified.