But in the Fall I'm Leaving Summary
While But in the Fall I'm Leaving primarily examines the effects of divorce on a family, most specifically on a girl who yearns for a real mother in her life, it also centers on a mystery. Brieanna (Brie) McQuade knows that there is something unusual about her father's relationship to Miss Emily, but she does not know how the rich older woman is connected to her own life. When she is forced to work for Miss Emily in compensation for having spray painted her house, Brie gets to know the person who she eventually discovers is her grandmother. Why this information has been hidden from Brie, in part, propels the plot of the novel. Also important to the plot is the question of whether or not Brieanna will leave her father and move in with her mother. "But in the Fall I'm Leaving" is the statement Brieanna says to herself as she tries to piece together the meaning of her place in the family and in the community.
At the center of the novel is an even greater question: the meaning of human existence. Rinaldi, through Brieanna and her priest brother, Kevin, explores what happens to human beings when they are overcome by despair. She reveals how religion and commitment to moral values can give meaning and solace to people. Rinaldi paints a very realistic picture of both weaknesses and strengths in even the most "seemingly" upright community members. In But in the Fall I'm Leaving she shows the dark side of life: a mother who ravages her daughter with the truth; a grandmother who helped devastate a town through economic buyout; and an important official who frequents places of prostitution. She also offers moral answers: There are ways one can be good to a peer, even if that peer has been nothing but trouble. There are good things one can do in the world. There are fights to be fought and to be won, even though there is often a price for winning. A human being can make the world a better place.