Happy Thursday, Reading Nook readers!
Today, I'm pleased to review Falling Into Place, an extraordinary debut from an equally extraordinary author.
Amy Zhang writes with an eloquence far beyond her years, on what it means to work through the mistakes and trials of young adulthood, and how to come love yourself again in the end - in spite of your mistakes.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: September 9th 2014 by Greenwillow Books
Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.
Well, I was wrong. So, so completely wrong.
Amy Zhang has written an exquisite debut novel on what it means to deal with trials and tribulations of being a teenager, including the stark realization that you have become the one thing that you didn't really want to be in the first place - and how to move beyond that fact.
Things that worked:
From page one, it's pretty obvious that Liz Emerson is a challenging character. She's on the verge of ending her life, and she's doing it in a way that's both shocking, but also wants to make the reader figure out how Liz reached this point.
Zhang does just that, by unfolding Liz's story in parallel story lines with alternating chapters. She shows us the Liz that used to be, and through the eyes of friends and family, how she evolved into the Liz that we see on the brink of death.
Much of what the reader learns about Liz makes her unlikable - there's substance abuse; she doesn't shy away from not respecting relationship boundaries - and that's just for starters. However, Zhang never forgets to remind the reader that there isa root cause to all of this. Liz grimly admits to herself at multiple points that she's been struck with an internal loneliness that won't go away, and readers will undoubtedly sympathize with that realization, and recognize a little bit of themselves in Liz.
I've seen many reviews remark on Zhang's writing, and it's not without reason. Unlike many of her contemporary author counterparts who tend to utilize first person, present tense, Zhang makes the interesting decision to narrate her book in third person, present tense.
The narrative decision is not only unique, but it also allows for the reader to see how Liz's suicide attempt impacts so many of the other people in her life. It's a very It's a Wonderful Lifeperspective, that shows just how much Liz's choices have created ripple effects in the lives of friends and family - both for better and worse.
To put it another way: Zhang's writing style allows us to see the depth of one person's impact, and how it can felt, even by the most distanced of individuals.
Because Zhang unfolds Liz's story from two parallel timelines, she has the tricky job of developing Liz's personality, while also reflecting on the bleakness of the situation post Liz's suicide attempt. Zhang does so effortlessly, adding just the right amount of hints connecting Liz's past and her present state, showing just how actions of her past have propelled her to this present.
Zhang also builds up the momentum of Liz's increased feeling of spiraling out of control, to the point where readers feel like they're anticipating the car accident to come.
As Cait D mentions in her review, this book isn't necessarily so much about just Liz, but also about her relationship with BFFs Kennie and Julia. We learn about their deepest secrets, and the role that Liz played in helping drive and cover those secrets up, and we also see how they drive Liz and vice versa.
Even though it's tough to read about what they've gone through at times, Zhang makes it clear that these are friends who - for better or for worse -do love each other, which impacts our impression of Liz's present-day situation.
Liz's mom also plays a secondary role, and we see how her hopes, fears and dreams have driven Liz to this point as well. The only question now is - if they are enough to move both of them past this point, and forward.
I'm not going to lie - I was actually kind of dreading the ending. Zhang had woven such a sad, thought-provoking tale of how one girl could feel that her circumstances had left her with no way out but one - I almost didn't want to see how Liz's story would conclude.
However, I will say that without giving any spoilers away, Zhang's ending is stunning. Not only does it fall perfectly in line with the Liz that we've gotten to know throughout the course of a novel, it's also an ending that will make readers feel a certain sense of optimism toward the future.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
My one very minor quibble with Falling into Place was more of a personal preference, than an actual issue with the novel. I personally felt like the twist - as it were - was telegraphed to readers fairly early on, and made the reveal at the end slightly less impactful.
However, I also recognize the fact that I'm a little older than the average YA reader, so I think it's fully possible that experience had allowed me to gauge what was coming. I'd be interested in seeing what other readers think.
Sometimes, the best and most relatable voices come from those who are in the throes of that growth, and can write about those moments with a discerning, honest eye that many of us lose or put aside, once we become older.
Liz Emerson and her friends may not be the most likable of characters, but their honesty, pain and moments of realization will undoubtedly inspire and move even the most seasoned of readers. Younger readers will relate to Liz, and admire her for being willing to speak her mind. Older readers may find much of what Liz goes through to be surprising, but will undoubtedly be grateful t Zhang for writing an eye-opening book.
I recommend this book for fans of Lauren Oliver and Gayle Forman.
About the Author:
Amy Zhang used to have lots of imaginary friends. When people told her to grow up, she turned her imaginary friends into characters and started telling their stories. When she isn't writing, she can be found playing piano, hitting balls on the tennis court, or struggling through her weekly existential crisis. She lives in Wisconsin with her family.