Friday, July 4, 2014
ARC Review: Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
Title: Falling into Place
Author: Amy Zhang
Rating: 3 Stars
Release Date: September 9th, 2014
If If I Stay and Some Girls Are were to somehow morph into one book, Falling into Place would be the result. Unfortunately, Zhang's debut was nowhere as strong--for me--as Gayle Forman or Courtney Summers's novels were. Nevertheless, I have to admit that the overwhelming consensus concerning this debut is true: it is very good. When it comes to my relationship with contemporary, however, it falls short of being truly memorable.
Following the story of Liz, Falling into Place is a realistic probe into the harsh truths of high school. Liz is a classic bully; popular, beautiful, boyfriends, drugs, alcohol. Only, while ticking off the boxes to reach the highest rungs of the high school heirarchy, she's hurt a lot of people. Anyone who has ever, unknowingly, hurt her best friends (and cronies), whether by performing better than them at band or dating their ex, falls under the scrutiny and destruction that Liz brings with her. While she isn't well-liked, she is well-respected by the student body. Yet, as Liz begins to wake up to the horror she has wrought over others, she begins to realize that she creates more problems by existing than not existing. Crashing her car is supposed to be her ticket to heaven (or hell), but instead she winds up in ICU, fighting for her life. Told in flashbacks, jumping through the timeline of Liz's life, Zhang weaves a suspenseful story, peeling back the layers of her bully while we read on to see whether she makes it...or not.
For me, the premises of this novel is far more successful than its execution. What I really appreciated about Zhang's novel is the fact that it so carefully explores Liz from multiple angles of her life. Whether it be from her childhood to her father's death to her mother's workaholism and subsequent absences, Zhang certainly makes excuses for Liz's behavior. But, she also doesn't. Quite simply put, Liz is a wrecking ball. Her friendship with Julie, one of her best friends, first began when Julie was a victim of Liz's bullying and then, when given the opportunity, chose her friendship over seclusion. Kennie, Liz's other best friend, is constantly looking to her for attention and advice while Liz carelessly leads her down the wrong path. Zhang first paints these three as a "Three Musketeers"-esque relationship but the subtle threads that have brought them together and string them apart are beautifully revealed, giving us a far more complex friendship than we may have imagined. For all the drugs and sex these girls are involved in, for all the shitty decisions they make--together and apart--they still care for one another. It isn't always easy to read about Liz's role in their lives or the role these three have played together in ruining the lives of others, but it's certainly intriguing to see the lines of karma come back to hit them two-fold.
Zhang's depth is easily the strongest aspect to this novel but the manner in which it is told is definitely memorable. Certain chapters, in particular, work remarkably well when told from the perspective of Liz's mother as she reflects that she knew how to anticipate her daughter's first moments, but cannot fathom how to cope with her last. Other chapters, such as the musings of her physics teacher over learning news of Liz's hospitalization, or the third-person perspective of school life with Liz's absence, continued to shine. Yet, the method in which the novel progresses left much to be desired. Falling into Place is narrated by an unexpected narrator, one whose narration I found added little to the story. It didn't enhance my understanding of Liz in the least nor did it add to my emotional attachment. Furthermore, the storyline of this arc jumps a lot. I enjoy shifting timelines, but Zhang's debut contains chapters that are just too short and the following chapters are all completely different settings or perspectives or times which, sadly, forced me to become detached from the novel.
When it comes to contemporary, for me, I either feel for the characters or I don't. I thoroughly appreciated the complex characterization of the protagonist and her friends in Falling into Place, not to mention the story being told by Zhang--that of a bully who is far more than her surface deeds--is an important one. Yet, I felt too detached from the story-telling method to truly become involved in this novel. What's more, I feel as if Zhang threw in every possible teenage issue into one slender volume. I'm glad she bothered to explore a lot of issues that don't receive too much attention in YA, but these slivers of mentions did little for the story since they needed to be further expanded upon for me. Moreover, the epilogue of this tale came too abruptly for my liking, desperately needing a little more in-between. I feel as if so much of this story is Liz before she crashes her car, Liz's life story up until she crashes her car, and her friend's reactions after she crashes her car. Ultimately, before the ending revealed in the epilogue I needed a little more from her since so many of the gaps in her story are filled by others.
Falling into Place is certainly a worthy debut and a novel I know fans of contemporary are going to love. What's more, it's an important story for this day and age when bullying and drugs are such prevalent aspects to teenage life. Yet, in comparison to If I Stay or Some Girls Are, this one pales. If I Stay explores the tenuous connection between life and depth with such greater poise than this one ever does and Some Girls Are is a much rawer exploration of bullying than Zhang's novel, simply because it is told from the perspective of the bully and it is impossible to alienate yourself from her thoughts the way we can with the alternating perspectives and timelines in Falling into Place. Zhang piles on a bit too much on her plate for my complete enjoyment, I'm afraid, though I don't hesitate to recommend this to other readers. I know the world is going to fall head-over-heels for this. I just didn't.