We All Fall Down
is a young adult mystery novel by Robert Cormier. Published in 1991 by Laurel Leaf, the plot centres around a nameless “avenger” who witnesses a crime taking place and the justice the avenger seeks on an injured girl’s behalf. The book received the 1994 California Young Readers Medal for Young Adult Fiction. Cormier specialised in pessimistic, dark literature which is still suitable for younger audiences. In his books, the heroes rarely win, and abuse, violence, illness, and conspiracy are central themes.We All Fall Down
takes place in a small American town called Burnside. It begins on April Fools’ Day in the Jerome household. Four teenagers enter the Jerome house when no one is home and wreck it. They break furniture, vandalise the walls, and even soil the floors. They’re so busy trashing the place and causing destruction that they don’t hear someone else arrive home.
Karen Jerome is the youngest member of the family. When she hears what’s happening, she enters the property. She panics, and the vandals hear her. Some of the vandals grab her and throw her down the stairs. She falls unconscious and ends up in a coma. Although her family wants justice, it’s impossible to know who committed the crime unless she wakes up.
Her older sister, Jane, is heartbroken. She loves Karen and regrets that she wasn’t there to protect her. She becomes withdrawn and stops wanting to see any of her friends. She’s especially upset because she had a huge argument with Karen before the incident, and she told Karen she hoped she had an accident.
What Jane doesn’t know, however, is that her boyfriend, Buddy, is one of the perpetrators. Apart from Karen, the only other person who knows this is the mysterious “avenger.” He is a childlike man who watched the events unfold and couldn’t do anything to stop them. Now, he wants justice, and he’ll hunt the perpetrators down one by one.
The ringleader is Harry Flowers, the son of a prominent architect. He gathers boys around him who look up to him and see him as a leader, which means he can make them do whatever he wants. Buddy’s parents got divorced before the incident, and Buddy needed a friend. Harry took advantage of his vulnerability and took him under his wing. Buddy started drinking and doing whatever Harry said, but even he knows that attacking Karen is inexcusable. He replays the incident over and over in his mind, and the guilt eats him up.
Meanwhile, Jane ignores all her friends other than Buddy. He comforts her and helps her deal with the trauma. He still doesn’t tell her the truth, because he knows he’ll lose her if he does. He’s already got no one else other than Harry and Jane—he can’t lose anyone. The avenger, however, gets tired waiting for Buddy to turn himself in and sets out to kidnap him.
The avenger acts like he’s no more than 11 years old during the novel, but he’s a middle-aged man called Mickey. He killed his grandfather and a school bully many years ago, and he’s never moved past this. He can’t let a bully go unpunished. But when he discovers Jane is dating Buddy, he’s disgusted. He decides the truth must come out—and Jane must die, too.
Meanwhile, Karen wakes up. She can’t talk yet, but this is hopefully temporary. A neighbor tells the police they saw Harry’s car on the street that night, and the police speak with him. Harry claims Jane gave him the key, which Jane says is nonsense. Because he had a key, the police can’t arrest him for breaking and entering, unless Karen starts talking.
Mickey lures Jane to an empty lot on the pretence he has information for her. He tells Jane the truth about Buddy and that she deserves to die for not seeing it. Jane realises that Mickey thinks he’s still 11, and she uses this to her advantage. She explains all the reasons why he can’t be 11 anymore, and that he’s a middle-aged man stuck in a loop in his mind.
Mickey has a psychotic break because of Jane’s revelations. He commits suicide in the lot, and Jane gets away. She tells her family and Buddy discovers she knows his secret. She’s not interested in prosecuting him—she just wants away from him. At the end of We All Fall Down
, it’s not clear if she will ever forgive him or not.
Sadly, although Karen starts talking again, she can’t remember anything about the incident or being shoved down the stairs. In a sense, this means she can move forward with her life without the trauma of dealing with this horrible crime.