Falling into Place by Amy Zhang (Greenwillow Books, 9 September 2014)
FALLING INTO PLACE is a quick read that packs a surprising amount into its pages and provides glimpses into the life and mind of a popular girl who's burdened by all the things she's done.
Liz Emerson tries to commit suicide by her car off the road. She makes it look like an accident. But she doesn't die. She ends up in hospital in a coma. As we piece together Liz's life through flashbacks and through watching the people who know her react to the news, we find out about all the ways it's gone wrong and all the people she's hurt.
I'll admit, it took me a while to get into this book. The writing style is quite different and the narration is weird – it's told in first person, but you'll have to read this book to figure out who the narrator is, because it's probably not like any other narrator you've encountered before. But once I got into it, the book completely flew by in a couple of hours.
Zhang deals with a number of realistic teenage issues in this book, and with skill. This is the second book I'm reading this week that's centred on the mean girl, the popular girl, and her story, and I have to say I'm really loving these types of stories. I love that we got the mean girl and her two friends, and all three had decidedly very different issues of their own to deal with. Liz is bulimic, Julia has a drug addiction, and Kennie makes bad decisions when she sleeps with boys. I love their friendships, which were explored in some depth – there was such a memorable and bittersweet scene between Liz and Julia when they went running together in the rain and jumped into a pond together.
Liz is a bully and unlikeable but I really felt for her. I really loved her complicated story with her boyfriend Jake, with whom she's been on-again, off-again for years – how neither of them actually love each other and how Jake's constantly cheating on her but how there are moments when Liz can almost convince herself to believe in love again. I liked the story of how Liz bullied Liam as well – Liam, who has always been secretly in love with Liz and who falls in love with her again even after she bullies him. I wasn't sure how to feel about Liam's feelings for Liz though since I do find it slightly troubling that he stays in love with someone who's bullied him badly. I think I was supposed to find it romantic that he loves her so much but it just didn't sit right with me.
We got to see some scenes from Liz's early childhood, when she still believed in being a hero, in helping other people, in standing up to bullies – and then realised that she fell far short of her own ideals. It was heartbreaking but shatteringly real. There were some really interesting parts in the book about her parents; her father when she was young, and at some point Liz and her mother stopped reaching out for each other; Liz stopped asking for help, asking for affection, and her mother stopped giving it. I think that's the powerful emotional centre of the book, this relationship between Liz and her mother, and it's this relationship which comes beautifully to the fore at the poignant closing of the book.
FALLING INTO PLACE is a complex and thought-provoking book: it's a study in lost childhood innocence and in the psychology of a girl who can't stop destroying everything in her path. But it's not a book without hope.