Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang is a book I added to my TBR because a couple of people on Twitter were saying how amazing it was. Then I discovered it's published by Greenwillow so excitement rose. I got it from Edelweiss without even reading the synopsis. Imagine my surprise when I started reading and was not expecting a book that was quite so intense, dark, and sad. It's probably a good thing I didn't know because I probably would have put off reading it. Despite bringing all my parental nightmares to vivid life, this is a book that says and reveals important things about the teen experience. It's a book I think many parents are going to freak out about, but they should all read.
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?
Liz Emerson is her school's most popular girl. Everyone knows her, most people hate her. The latter is well deserved. Liz is not a nice person. No one in this book aside from Liam, the boy who sees something else in Liz and is the one to find her car, is. Liz is the ultimate mean girl. She deliberately goes about trying to destroy other people. It is her way to prop herself up against the world and keep herself separate. But she is killing herself with this long before she attempts suicide through car crash. Each act, each destroyed life, every choice she makes that is about image rather than self, works to destroy her. In addition to Liz this is the story of her two best friends, Kennie and Julia, girls both swept up in the force of Liz's personality. They are just as unlikeable and broken as she is. Despite being the quintessential mean girls, all three of them are very real and human in their fears, doubts, struggles, and horrors. Through vivid imagery and prose, Zang brings to life their high school experience and the harsh reality that is being a teen. My heart broke for all three of them.
I usually don't like books that skip around in the way this one does, but here the format works perfectly. It moves from the timeline of Liz's accident and what occurs after to flashbacks of the months leading up to the accident (but not in order!) to some snippets from Liz's childhood. There is very linear movement. However, it was absolutely perfect in how it fully depicted all of the characters and still got the point of the story, which is a powerful one, across. The prose is vivid and emotive. Zang really makes you feel what her characters do causing a physical ache in places.
Yes, this is an excellent book, but it was not without its aspects that bothered me. I really grew to hate how often Liz's full name was used. Liz Emerson feels...Liz Emerson does....Liz Emerson wants... Enough already! The entire premise of the narration grated on me too. I didn't really see it as necessary and it was actually rather silly. This book has so much good going for it that it did not need to depend on a corny gimmick like that narration trick. The best parts of the story, in my opinion, were the ones where the narrator got lost and it felt like it was just third person. Then that annoying first person would pop up again and UGHHHH. This is a typical problem for me when this narration is used in any book. I'm not a fan of The Book Thief either, and my inability to buy the conceit of the narrative is a big reason why. It was less intrusive here, but still got in the way of my fully falling into the story. The final aspect that bothered me is the end. It does end on a rather hopeful note. One I found completely unbelievable. I know I always say I love a good depression to hope story. There are authors that do it extraordinarily well: Melina Marchetta, Trish Doller, Meg Medina. What makes those authors so good is how they show the characters climbing out of the darkness. It is an arc I can see. That wasn't as evident here.
Despite the things that didn't work for me, I do recommend this book, particularly for fans of contemporary YA who enjoy heartrendingly real stories.
Content Warning: strong language, sexual references, drug and alcohol use
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Falling Into Place is for sale on September 9th.