I’ve been interested in martial arts as a form of self-defense for years. After She Falls by Carmen Schober caught my eye because it’s the story of a female mixed martial arts fighter. Although taking a few martial arts classes just in case interests me, I can’t imagine loving MMA as a sport and wanting to fight other women. So I picked up this debut novel from curiosity about this sport and the women who pursue it.
I received this book for review from the publicist; all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
After She Falls plot summary
Adri had big dreams of being a professional mixed martial artist. However, when she got pregnant with her daughter, she gave it all up. Now, six years later, she’s back in her small hometown (the last place she said she’d go), trying to start a new life for herself and her daughter. After months of trying to find a job, Adri takes a position teaching martial arts at the local gym. Slowly, her childhood dreams begin to rise again. Can she find the old fire in herself to start fighting again?
Max has spent the last several years focusing on his dream of owning a gym, and trying to move past his broken heart and the loss of his father. Adri’s return to town stirs up all his old feelings for her, along with anger at how she treated him. Despite that, he needs a gym instructor, and Adri needs a job, so he offers her the position. Then Adri’s return to professional fighting drags him back into the spotlight too.
As Adri and Max wrestle with their regrets for the past and their feelings for each other, Adri’s uncle and her new trainer gently push them both towards renewed faith. Adri had walked away from God when she walked away from her hometown, but a chance encounter at church helped give her the courage to start her new life. Now, her desire for God pushes her away from Max once again. Can they ever move past the way they’ve hurt each other to find healing and hope?
My thoughts on After She Falls
Carmen Schober clearly knows the world of MMA well; she’s an avid boxer and Rocky enthusiast and it shows in After She Falls. The descriptions of Adri’s training, fights and the world of MMA competitions was solid and engaging. I could understand Adri’s desire to push herself physically. I found the fight scenes harder to get into. Carmen paints the brutality of the fights—broken noses, bruises, battered faces and more—in a way that drives the plot forward and kept me on the edge of my seat, even though I winced at the pain Adri endured for her sport.
Early in the novel, Adri’s friend Yvonne asks her why she likes fighting. Yvonne is a hairdresser and makeup artist who helps Adri prepare for some of her press conferences, and clearly can’t understand the attraction of MMA. Adri answers, ‘”You know how much you like reading your mystery novels? Fighting is like that for me. I can just get lost in it.” For Adri, mixed martial arts isn’t just blood and sweat and hurting someone. It actually lives up to its name as an art—the art of using one’s mind and body in unison in an unparalleled test of the will.’
Adri enters the competitions as the underdog; her exit from the fight scene six years earlier is public knowledge, and her ex-husband’s ruined fighting career is also linked to hers. She faces sneers and jeers outside the rink and tough fights inside the cage after so many years of not training and fighting. Her return to fighting is also linked to Max’s reputation, so the ups and downs of their relationship affect her career.
Adri’s relationship with her abusive ex-husband is a minor subplot. It dominates the first few chapters of After She Falls, and then almost disappears for most of the novel. I found myself wondering when he would reappear to make Adri’s life miserable and doubted he’d leave her alone as much as he does. Adri occasionally reflects on the domestic violence she endured in her marriage, and her regrets over being unable to defend herself despite her MMA skills and training, but doesn’t suffer from PTSD or post-separation abuse. Carmen seems to have less experience with this aspect of the plot than MMA, and I wanted to see more of it on the page as I thought it would play a bigger role in Adri’s life and return to fighting.
Carmen’s characters are real and gritty. They jump off the page in full colour, easy to picture with their unique personalities and perspectives. They struggle with questions of faith, with what to do next, with past mistakes and failed dreams. I loved the interactions between Skye and Enzo, two other MMA instructors at Max’s gym who become Adri’s friends and root for her as she begins fighting and training again. Her daughter Eva was also a bright spot on the pages, with a childlike innocence as she roots for her mom.
Overall, Carmen Schober writes a solid debut novel. Whether or not you enjoy MMA, you’ll enjoy this story of a single mom who has to overcome the demons of her past to pursue her goals and raise her daughter.
More About Carmen Schober
Carmen is married to Jeff and mom of two daughters and a baby boy. She’s also an occasional goal-coach, perpetual project starter, and a former creative writing teacher. She’s been published sports fiction and nonfiction in literary journals, freelanced, and edited a few magazines. On her blog, she keeps her love of writing alive, whether that’s writing about writing or whatever else is on her mind. After She Falls is her first novel.