title: Falling into Place
author: Amy Zhang
buy it: Amazon Goodreads B&N
rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
recommended for: People who love Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Far From You by Tess Sharpe, or anything by Laurie Halse Anderson. John Green fans. Lovers of craft.
will i read this author again?: Absolutely.
will i continue the series?: N/A
My Ratings Explained
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.
take home message
Falling is a powerful story of mistakes and redemption, self-hatred and love, told in a refreshingly blunt voice. With out-of-order chapters, poetic interludes, and a surprising narrator, it manages to be literary without being inaccessible. A must-read for teenagers, or anyone who appreciates good writing. I couldn't put it down.
the basicsI'm not sure when I became the nexus of teen issues books. I guess they just draw me in. I was a teen with issues. Now, my research revolves around teens with issues. I don't think there will ever be a point where teens with issues are obsolete and don't need to feel less alone. But Falling Into Place isn't just an "issues" book. It isn't preachy or moralizing. It isn't histrionic. It's blunt as a kick to the face and not afraid to be snarky, even irreverent. It's about messing up. It's about lasting friendship. While I think some readers will struggle with the character of Liz, I applaud Zhang for the brave choice. Liz is not always a nice person. She's caused others a great deal of pain. She makes bad choices that she knows are bad. But I think Zhang does a phenomenal job of showing that, despite her faults, Liz is still worthy of love and empathy. All readers might not agree. But I think an open-minded reader will find that Liz is only human. A human who believes that she's done so much wrong, she can never redeem herself. Through Zhang's poignant writing, it becomes clear that Liz is a fiercely loyal and vibrant girl capable of great good, with a reputation that she fears she can't outlive. It's a beautiful treatise on what can happen when you--and others--see you as only your mistakes. And how sometimes you have to hit bottom before you realize that you're not lost forever.
plot . 4/5I'll start with the negatives because I don't have many. There are certain events that I find rather ubiquitous in books about teen suicide. Aka, drugs and abortion. Whether the main character is involved or whether she knows someone who is, these subjects pop up again and again. I know that these subjects do affect teens and need to be discussed. However, someday I'd like to find a book about depression and suicide where the incidents leading to the fatal choice are less dramatic. Why? Because not every depressed teen has a series of tragedies that lead them to their depression. In fact, many teens feel depressed despite having what an outside observer might call a "pretty good life." And these teens often feel guilty for their sadness, because they don't have "enough problems" to deserve to feel the way they do. Those teens are also much more likely to fly under the radar, because friends and teachers don't realize they're at risk.
Soapbox aside, I thought Zhang's plotting was tight and brilliant. I'll gush more about the structure below. As far as events, the non-chronological presentation created suspense and kept me guessing. You can see the effects of actions before you even learn what those actions are. You don't even read about the week before Liz's crash until later in the book. It allows for the constant interweaving of story lines: Liz's growing self-hatred, Liam's love compared with Jake's indifference, Julia's claustrophobic perfectionism, Kennie's lost naivete, Liz's parents and their tragedy. Some of my favorite moments were those that could seem mundane, such as Liz's fear of standing up for another kid in elementary school. Seems innocent, but juxtaposed with later happenings, it becomes clear how Liz learned the futility of kindness. Always present is the darkest thread, Liz's last seven days: the week she says will either change her mind or confirm her decision. Her fear of reaching out and desperation for an epiphany is palpable. The whole mess of timelines culminates in a prologue that could have been saccharine, but wasn't. For a book like this, it felt satisfying. Believable. I came away breathless.
concept . 5/5There are many novels that deal with the depression and suicidality of victims. Kids who have been beaten down. Kids from broken homes. Kids who have been bullied. So what about the bully? Liz Emerson certainly qualifies. She's spray-painted "slut" on someone's lawn. Sent a girl to the hospital. Ruined reputations and spread rumors. A lot of readers might hate her. And that's exactly why I think she's the perfect character for this book. One, because I have a soft spot for the people that others call lost causes. Two, because bullies have problems too and they're created, not born. Zhang takes care to piece together Liz like a puzzle. You can see her evolution. You can see how she turned to tearing people down because it seemed like the only way to survive. And how she came to hate herself for it--and how that self-hatred only fueled her antipathy. You can see where she tried to better herself, only to come away defeated. By tracing Liz's path step-by-step, getting into her head, Zhang forces the reader to see Liz as an imperfect person, not just a bully. To question: if I were there, would I have stood up for that person? Or just chuckled on the sidelines like Liz did? While I think other readers might disagree, I think that Zhang builds up so much empathy for Liz. Even when I didn't like her, I still loved her.
characters . 5/5Liz is not the most sympathetic MC. She's cruel. She's reckless. She tears other people apart because it's the only thing she knows. But dig deeper and you'll also find that she's full of life and love, and good intentions that she doesn't know how to turn into action. She'll do anything for her friends, even if she's not always sure what she needs. But she's also paralyzed by her past mistakes. Mistakes have given her a reputation, and as much as she wants to change, she feels like every good act she tries is too little, too late. Her friends provide clarity to her character, while being fully fleshed out themselves. Julia is the best-written, a high-strung perfectionist who let loose once and is paying the price. Kennie is a little thinner until midway through, when the depth beneath her bubbly exterior shines through. Their love for Liz, despite how she's hurt them, feels absolutely real. They know the good in her that others don't see. They know how she's fought for them. Liam is another perfect foil. Liz's rumor once ruined him, but he was able to forgive her, and to see parts of her that she didn't know how to show others. He know her demons, and loves her anyway. Then you have Liz's mom, a woman crippled by tragedy who doesn't know how to be vulnerable. The way these characters come together over Liz's tragedy is a beautiful show of how love can endure through the worst hardship. There's also the narrator, whose identity I won't spoil. This narrator is Liz's foil and greatest champion, the one who knows her best, and their voice colors the whole tale.
style . 5/5Zhang's style is beautiful without being pretentious, meaningful without being overbearing. It's also incredibly funny, in a dark way that reminds me favorably of Ned Vizzini or John Green. But Zhang isn't a copycat. Her style is less outrageous than Green's, more cynical in a very self-aware way. That style feeds into Liz's voice. Liz as a character jumped off the page at me. So did Liam, Julia, Kennie. Their internal musings were as clear as voices in my own head. There were moments that made me laugh, they were so surprising and blunt. There were also beautiful moments when Zhang was able to imply with a few simple words a whole multiplicity of emotions. The emotional undercurrent of this book was incredibly strong; few writers have such a good grasp of atmosphere. It's the kind of writing I aspire to: a mix of literary and accessible, clever and universal.
mechanics . 5/5Liz's story is told in vignettes ranging from childhood to the present day. While the present day snippets are in relative chronological order, they're split up by asynchronous passages that jump between points in Liz's life, sometimes early points, sometimes the day or hour before her crash. Mixed up with these are very brief "memory" chapters. The flexible flow of time allows Zhang to juxtapose scenes that share certain themes or tell a certain story. She can show you present-day Julia mourning her best friend with past-Julia, a victim of that same friend's cruelty, next to a memory of even younger Liz, before she became jaded. The final effect is a collage of moments that weave into each other. It feels organic. As with learning about a real person, you don't get all the necessary details about Liz right away. You don't see her story linearly. It allows your view of Liz and her life to change with each chapter--sometimes anger at her weakness, sometimes pity for her struggles, sometimes love for her strength.
Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.