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.


  1. With some books I just can't tell you. Maybe I would feel like you, maybe I would love it, maybe I would hate it

  2. There has been quite a bit of hype surrounding this novel which is why I was first drawn to it (that and that pretty cover). It actually kind of reminds me of Before I Fall (not that I've read it).

    I don't think I'd enjoy this though after reading your review. I do read my fair share of contemporary (less YA though) but I think for a contemporary novel to really impress me, it has to go beyond the normal 'issues'. I mean look at Marchetta. Her novels are so beautifully written and I am sure many teenagers can relate to her books (I know I can).

    With this though, it seems like all these issues are packed within a book and so there isn't enough opportunity to concentrate on one and actually explore it.

    Plus it seems like this book concentrates more on the before than the after and that usually doesn't work for me :/

    I am sorry you didn't enjoy this more though.

    Beautiful review, as ALWAYS, Keertana! :)

    Rashika @ The Social Potato

  3. Awwwww no. I have been looking forward to this one, and I was hoping it would be a new favorite, but I'm now starting to doubt that this one is for me. I may still read it, and see what I think, since it works for my debut challenge anyway. I just don't like that there's so many different POVs though I can understand the reasoning behind it. Maybe, I'll just finally read If I Stay instead, and see how I feel about that one first. Lovely review, Keertana! I hope you like your next read more, since it seems like you've had some bad luck lately with new releases :( Such a shame.

  4. I sometimes hate when books are compared to others because I think it just unnecessarily puts ideas and feelings into you before you even begin and more often than not you are left a little disappointed that it didn't live up to them.

    I am glad that either way, you still really liked this. I have heard some pretty good things about it.

  5. I've been hearing nothing but praise about this book, so it's refreshing to see a more balanced review, Keertana. It initially sounded like a book that I would have enjoyed, but I'm definitely questioning my decision now. It seems like the main character isn't all that likeable with her bullying and although it seems like we do get to know her, I would struggle with her bullying ways, because I've suffered from bullying in school when I was younger.
    I also don't like that the author decided to tackle a multitude of issues. That's something that always puts me off in some YA books. I'd much rather have a book that focuses on one theme thoroughly.
    While the book does sound promising when it comes to the narration, I don't think I would connect well to it either.
    Thank you for the lovely review, Keertana.

  6. Too bad it fell short for you. I still have Gale Forman's If I Stay on my tbr and you had me itching to wanting to read it again. So need to get on that. :)

  7. Keertana, The praise for this book has been quite excessive, so I agree with Nick - it's great to hear a new view! :D Like you said, the premise is absolutely fabulous, so it's a shame that the execution didn't live up. I love how you mentioned that Zhang really puts a lot of physiological depth into Liz, and we really get to see why she is who she is, you know?

    The writing and means of flashbacks sound absolutely wonderful, but it's a shame that the much-hyped-about mysterious narrator didn't really have much of an impact on you. :(

    And I totally hear what you're saying about Zhang simply trying to cram as many teenage "issues" into one book as she could, to the point where it became overwhelming for you. I agree that I'd rather have an in-depth focus on a single "issue" than simply skimming over a bunch of "issues", you know?

    Anyhow, I think I'll still give this a try because it still sounds enjoyable, despite the flaws. (And...I want to see what all the hype's about!) I'll definitely lower my expectations than I had them originally, and hopefully that will help! Thanks for sharing, and, as always, BRILLIANT review! <3

    ~ Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf

  8. Although, I'm a contemporary fan, the car crash, flashbacks, teen bullying sounds so much like If I stay like you mentioned and that's one novel where my opinion is far different from most of the Forman fans. I'm skeptical about reading this book. Beautiful review, Keertana!!

  9. Despite your detachment from the main character, I think I'd love to try this one. I love it when a lot of effort is given to characterisation, and the MC is definitely someone who has a lot of depth and history and issues within her. I'd love to explore those myself and maybe even dissect them in my mind (yeah, I'm weird that way). And you're right, with the amount of bullying and drugs and other vices that are prominent in our day and age, it's important for people to read more books like this to become more aware and informed. Awesome review, Keertana!

    Faye at The Social Potato Reviews

  10. I have seen this one around and while it seems interesting I don't think I'll give it a try. I like that characters have depth here, but not connecting with them is what always ruins the experience. Great review, Keertana :)

  11. Sorry this one fell short for you. I love a good contemporary, but I'll push this one aside for now. Thanks for the review!

  12. The premise does sound really good Keertana and it would've captured my attention as well. It does seem the story would've benefited with more focus. Great review! :) I think I'll pass on this one.

  13. Beautiful review, Keertana! I just started this book and I'm glad that this book will resonate well to teenagers. The premise sounds really good indeed. It's such a shame that the execution is not as well done. Multiple POVs don't always work and I can see that there is a distance between readers and the main character. I still want to read this book, but I'll try to lower my expectation now. :)

    Thanks for the honest, lovely review! <3 :)

  14. The depth, manner of telling the story and the subject matter sounds like something I would like even if not as strong as Summers.

  15. This is a lovely and extremely thoughtful review, Keertana! I have not felt compelled at all to read this, and I still don't, unfortunately. Despite talking about complex characterization, an emotional connection is vital to my reading a book. I'm not sure I want to read an extended flashback of this girl, even though I can see the value of this story. This all just makes me glad I'm no longer in high school! HA.

  16. Aw, sorry you didn't love this one Keertana! I love your review though - it really hits it all, including the plot, the characters, and the story as a whole. I've read both If I Stay and Some Girls Are, and I feel that Forman and Summers both did a wonderful job with those works. Merging those books together though, as you say, might give any author a little too much handle though. I'll proceed with caution for this book and I'll keep your review in mind when deciding to check it out, though it does sound intriguing nonetheless.

  17. I loved this book, I really did. I think it touches upon depression in a new and real way and offers a fantastic perspective. I'm looking forward to more of Zhang's work.


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