Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Review: Falling into Place by Amy Zhange
Release date: September 9th, 2014
Publisher: Greenwillow (Harper)
Series: No
Source: eARC via Edelweiss/ARC from BEA14
Length: 304 pages
Rating: Objectively good, but I got zero feels.


On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.

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.

This is the sort of book lots of people are going to love. It's the sort of book you are probably going to love, but for whatever reason, it's a book I can only sort of vaguely appreciate.
It's a book full of the awful truths of existence and even manages to touch on a bunch of problems that affect my life, and yet I remained unaffected. I got zero feels from Falling into Place, which is a shame, because a lot of this book is exquisite. But then there are the parts of the book that are a bit too misery-porn-ish, a bit too metaphorical for the sake of being metaphorical, a bit too detached, a bit too full of wisdom and heartbreak.

This book is mostly a character study in the many ways that you can fall apart. It's about Liz Emerson, a girl who has become a person she hates and who can't figure out how to stop. So she decides to kill herself, Liz is totally fascinating and totally tragic, and I'll admit I wanted to read her story. Falling into Place was a one sitting read for me, but I didn't shed one tear, and after the (rather abrupt) ending, I closed the book and shrugged. Amy Zhang is enormously talented, but somehow all the lovely parts of this book didn't equal a whole for me.

Liz, Julia, Kennie, and all the rest of the characters have the sort of flaws and contradictions and insecurities that real people have, but I didn't connect to them. They felt real, but not real, and I know that's not exactly the most informative sentence I've ever written, but I'm having a hard time explaining my feelings for this book. Because it's good, it is, but it's good as it thinks? That sounds horrifically bitchy. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Liz and her friends are not flat characters, but they are also not real life people. They are very well developed and have all the kind of pointy edges I love to read about, but they're also the sort of people who frequently think about the sky and how broken chandeliers represent them and the kind of things only characters in depressing contemporaries ever do. I just never truly connected.

(For the record, I have loved some depressing contemporaries, even though they're certainly not my go-to thing.)

The book is objectively good, but it is also mostly a book about how people are poetically sad. Like yes, I know. Life is shit and people pretend and it is sad. And at the end of it, I'm sort of left wondering what the point of it was. I mean, I get the point. People wear masks, and we're all human, and we make mistakes, and a hundred other things. This book touches on bullying, depression, abortion, drug abuse, neglect, rape, homophobia--you name it. There is beauty and heart in the lessons that Zhang weaves into her story, which is mainly about three girls who love each other fiercely but can't seem to tell each other or themselves the truth, who are ripping themselves and others apart and can't seem to stop. The friendship between Julia, Kennie, and Liz was lovely to read about in a sort of detached way.
Even my gifs are "meh".

But I'm strill struggling to realize what the ultimate point of the story is beyond the tragedy of a life unraveling. The ugliness of their bullying (because they are the bitches of their high school, Liz in particular) is appalling, but I know that already. This book talks about a million different things, and maybe that's the point, how everything jsut kind of builds until you fall apart and how hard it is to fall back into place, but the book kind of ends before we get there.

I think the choice of narrator, a mystery omniscient first person observer whose identity is meant to be a mystery, helped keep me detached from the goings on. I also thought the ending was a bit abrupt, and I didn't understand why it was building towards that scene as the final scene. Not the epilogue scene, which actually was perfect, but the one directly before. I'm let mostly a bit confused about Falling into Place, because taken in little slivers, I liked this book. I like the non-linear technique and all the different characters and its commentary on grief.

This book doesn't have much of a plot and mainly serves as a character study. It's a collage of vignettes, memories, and snapshots of Liz's life and the lives of the people around her (which I love), and each little section usually comes to some sort of existential epiphany or grim realization (which I don't). And that, I think, is the thing that kept this from being a Gillian book and convinces me that tons of people will love it. That's just not the kind of writing or character building that moves me. It's a personal thing. Part of the problem with this kind of writing is that it always reminds me that I'm reading a book. For a story that's all about how fucked up people are and what a shattered mess the world is and how we have to fight so hard to pull it together, the format in which it's told is actually a little too neat.


  1. I just finished Falling Into Place recently, and we share a lot of the same feelings about it! It was fascinating, but it was also a read I felt detached from. But I do think the writing was well-done, and that, for sure, there are people who are going to absolutely love it! Sadly, I liked it a lot but it just wasn't a read I could fall head over heels for.

  2. Eugh, misery porn. There have to be some good things too. It can't be sad sad sad sad all the time or it does kind of seem like someone's getting off on it. Definitely too detached. Also, the MC, why?

    "They felt real, but not real" <-- This is a sentiment I also have a lot of trouble expressing. I've been going with they feel like completely believable characters but not real people. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, "but they're also the sort of people who frequently think about the sky and how broken chandeliers represent them and the kind of things only characters in depressing contemporaries ever do." This is the best line ever.

    "how everything jsut kind of builds" <- jsut

    I do not understand the narrator choice. I am glad I skipped this. The writing was just awkward to me, especially that first sentence in present but with past and just what are this.

  3. I really liked this book, but at the same time I have a lot of the same feelings about it as you. The weird detachment and kind of like it was trying too hard. I don't feel like I accurately represented all of my feelings about it in my review...I had a really tough time figuring out how I even felt about it until I read your review and I was like OH MY GOSH this is exactly what my brain was trying to tell me, but I couldn't express it to myself. The whole "real but not real" thing was so apparent to me throughout the novel...I felt like the narrator was a bad choice; I really didn't like that part of the book. Some of the introspective parts I did enjoy, but I can see why you didn't like that.

  4. It was trying so hard. So hard. But I think the author is rather young herself so maybe that accounts for that? Misery porn is the perfect term for this though it is very well written misery porn. The narrator was my biggest problem with this one. I just couldn't take it seriously because of that. As you say, it will appeal to many readers, but I wasn't able to love it.

    Oh and I also agree with your point about the end scene. It was rather a let down, and unfortunately the epilogue didn't quite work for me like it did you so I was really left feeling let down by that.


  6. I felt as though the ending was so abrupt. Not going to lie, I thought that she wasn't going to make it in the end because all the sad elements were building up so aggressively that it seemed inevitable that she would die.

    I have to agree that this author is talented, but her youth is a leeway into getting away with the story. I've read other reviews on Goodreads and apparently other people have cried to this story. I however, struggle to find what is sad about this novel.

    I put off reading this story for ages as it was totally uninteresting, all for what? A stupid ending with almost no moral to the story. Seriously? What is it?! Don't crash your car on purpose? Don't study physics because its difficult? ARGH!!!

    I'm sad that I wasted my time reading this book. It had so much potential but I feel like the constant jump from past to present was too sudden. I honestly liked the little anecdotes from the past better than reading about the characters sitting down in the hospital waiting room.

    I'm so upset about this book that I might write a review on my blog just for the sake of it. It has actually been a while where I've read a book that didn't interest me, especially soppy sad stories!

    All in all, the story was meh.


Note: comments on posts older than 90 days are automatically moderated, so they won't show up here immediately. Thanks for commenting! :)