Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Title: Falling into Place
Author: Amy Zhang
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release date: September 9th 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
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?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Falling Into Place combines so many factors that I usually hate - an omniscient narrator, non-linear storytelling with lots of flashbacks rather than a focus on a current plot - but somehow, it works. I don't even know how to explain why Falling Into Place is so good; not all that much happens, since it's set in the stand-still after Liz's car crash, but the writing is so amazing that it doesn't even matter.

I really, really dislike omniscient narrators. I've read very few books that make it work, and while I was interning this summer, I read a ridiculous amount of queries with omniscient narrators that are used as an excuse for tons of head-jumping and a lack of focus in the story. So to say I was wary when I saw Falling Into Place has an omniscient narrator would be an understatement. But somehow, it totally works. Once you understand who the narrator is, it makes sense for them to have access to every characters' thoughts and story. I figured out who the narrator is about halfway through the book, but that doesn't make this way of telling the story any less powerful. It's pretty much genius the way this balances objectivity with a personal investment in the characters' lives, and I loved getting this perspective.

When you add non-linear, snapshot-like storytelling to this omniscient narration, Falling Into Place should be confusing as hell. As a reader who is used to linear, first-person narration, I am easily confused by anything that jumps from one character or one time period to another, let alone both. But somehow, it all comes together and makes sense even to a simplistic reader like me; the different points in time and the different characters' stories intertwine in intricate but subtle ways that tie the story together seamlessly; the story flows nicely, and I pretty much couldn't stop reading, despite (or because of) the non-linear storytelling.

Telling the stories of so many characters, it is easy to let them embody cliches and simplify their relationships, but that is definitely not the case in Falling Into Place. All of these characters' issues resonated with me, even if I didn't particularly like them or agree with them most of the time. They are self-destructive and vulnerable, and complex in the best way. The relationships, too, are toxic and complex, making for a fascinating read. The characters' vulnerability and pain is honest and heartwrenching, which is what makes this such an emotional read.

I can't talk about this much without spoiling things, but I wasn't a huge fan of the ending; I thought it was too abrupt and didn't fit the theme of the rest of the story. I get that ending it another way might have been problematic, and I might be in the minority in this opinion. But I think that, no matter how the story ends, it would be important to explore the emotions related to the outcome, and I found that aspect to be lacking.

Also, one more little complaint: I know the whole physics-thing is supposed to be meaningful and relevant, but... I just didn't care. A someone who doesn't really care about physics (sorry not sorry), I just found those passages kind of boring, to be honest.

Amy Zhang, I love you for writing this beautiful story, but I also hate you a little bit for making me feel like a total underachiever by writing something so good while still being in high school. But I still mainly just love this book. With effortlessly beautiful writing and vulnerable, complex characters, Falling Into Place is a quiet but powerful, heartwrenching, exceptionally-crafted novel that I can't recommend enough.


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