Contemporary · Review

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

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. 

fallingintoplaceLate last year, I made a long list of all the YA books to be published in 2014 that I’d like to read. This book was in the list, complete with exclamation marks and the question, ‘for promo?’ I liked the cover. I liked the synopsis. I liked that it started with the sentence, “On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class.” I like books that deal with mental illness and I love books that allude to science or mathematical stuff, and that first sentence promised both.

It wasn’t quite as science-y as I thought it’d be, but that’s all right. After reading it, I looked up other reviews and saw all the comparisons to If I Stay and Before I Fall and Thirteen Reasons Why, and it’s compared to all of them for very good reasons, but it’s Thirteen Reasons Why that it made me think of the most. Not because of the story – which may be more similar to the other two – but because reading Falling Into Place, I felt as if it’s the mirror-image of Thirteen Reasons Why. Both books talk about how each of our actions and words, no matter how small, have a greater impact on the people around us. But they show it from different perspectives.

Thirteen Reasons Why had two narrators – Clay, the boy listening to the tapes, and Hannah, the girl that made the tapes and committed suicide. Hannah didn’t have one single reason she wanted to kill herself; it was many incidents that may seem small by itself, but added together snowballed into something that ended up crushing her. I appreciated the depiction of the life of a teenage girl here as something I recognised, and understood. I reacted to this book on a highly personal level (hence the five stars it got on my GoodReads, a rating reserved only for books that affected me in that sense) so it’s hard to be objective, but I do understand the many objections to it – a lot of horrible things happened to Hannah, yes, but the act of making the tapes and having them passed around was also awful, and made it seem like she was killing herself to make the people on the receiving end of the tape feel bad, which was selfish.

Liz Emerson of Falling Into Place was a lot of things, but she wasn’t selfish. She decided to die because she decided the world was better off without her, and she chose to die on the anniversary of her father’s death so that her mother wouldn’t have to grieve on more than one day a year. It sounded like almost childish reasoning when I wrote it and thought about it in a detached kind of way, but it was also a kind of reasoning that I understand, because that’s how your mind works when you’re depressed. On the day she decided to die, Liz wrapped her car around a tree – and ended up in a coma while the narrative moves to flashbacks and the present thoughts of the people in her life – mostly her best friends Julia and Kennie, and Liam, a boy who was in love with her. In Liz’s flashbacks, she turned out to be Not A Very Nice Person. She and her friends were the “mean girls” of the school, and they were the sort of people that would have driven Hannah (of Thirteen Reasons Why) to suicide. But that wasn’t all – they’re all also seriously screwed up and lost and too proud to say so, or to ask for help. Liz was depressed, every bad deed rebounding to her tenfold, burdening her with guilt. Kennie had had an abortion, and was trying hard to ignore the emotional scars it left her. Julia was an addict, and she may have Liz to blame for it. Each of the girls had their own demons to deal with, and Liz’s suicide attempt forced it all out in the open.

I’ve come across a lot of YA titles on bullying, depression and suicide – and how the three may be linked – over the years, but Falling Into Place still retains a sort of freshness in how it approaches these topics, which I appreciate. I wouldn’t say that this is the best YA contemporary I read this year (it’s not even in my top five), but that’s mostly because I didn’t have the same emotional connection to the book. I compared it with Thirteen Reasons Why, which I enjoyed in a personal way, and I guess I would say that I liked Falling Into Place in more objective, “this is a good book and I know it” sort of way.  I did enjoy it a lot, though, and would (and have) recommend it to my YA customers in a heartbeat.

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3 thoughts on “Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

    1. I’m a fan of “problem novels”, at least the ones that deal with depression and other mental illness, so I may be somewhat biased towards liking this book. But I do like the depiction of high school life.

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