Monday, September 8, 2014

Triple ARC Review: Falling into Place - Amy Zhang

Falling into Place
Amy Zhang
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Release Date: September 9th, 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Word Rating: Interesting
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I picked up an ARC of this book at BEA, mostly being attracted by the cover and then thinking it looked like an interesting enough story from the description. After reading it, it's definitely taken me a while to really understand how I feel about this book.

For some background, Falling Into Place tells a story in nonlinear chapters, switching between before and after Liz Emerson crashes her car in a suicide attempt. As readers, we get pieces of the puzzle this way and we get pieces of the lives of the peoples close to her and we find out about the characters and their dynamics which each other and what pushed Liz to the edge. These chapters of background information are laced with the chapters of reaction to the attempt, and of taking her to the hospital, and ultimately seeing if she lives or dies. I really liked that the story was told this way instead of straightforward "This was Liz's life and these were her friend's and she was sad. Then she crashed her car (into a bridge I don't care I love it) and everyone else was sad. Does she live or does she die? Here are some pages of drawing it out and here's the last page where you finally find out woo."

I thought the way the book was written was much more effective because it allowed you to actually appreciate the characters (even if you didn't like them, because I definitely didn't like all of them, but some grew on me) without a giant info-dump and even though the only real place to put the "does she live or die?" moment is at the end, doing it in a traditional linear format would have felt like wading through everything else to get there, while this captured my attention more and I didn't feel like I was reading only for that moment of revelation, because there was so much else going on.

As for the characters, while I did think Amy Zhang did a good job, something felt slightly off about them. I think it's that even though they're all written with dimension and fleshed out with their own problems and backgrounds, they're very hard to connect to. Liz Emerson, for example, is a very unlikable main character. I personally don't like her at all. And I usually wouldn't see that as a problem because you can still appreciate a character without liking them. However, in this book, there was just a stark disconnect from the reader and the characters. Her friends Julia and Kennie were all fleshed out and Zhang covered all the gritty topics like drugs and abortions and whatnot. Even Liam, who I liked more than anyone else, I couldn't make a strong connection with, because so much of his background just involved being in love with Liz, rather than anything about him.

Also, the narrator, who I liked the idea of, although it isn't such a mystery who it is, especially after one certain scene, gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, I liked that the narrator allowed us to jump in and out of scenes and how they inserted comments in about Liz, but I think a lot more could have been done with it, and because it wasn't used for much other than literally telling the story, there wasn't much of a point, because it just took away from the gritty, realistic feel of the novel without much reason.

In any case, Amy Zhang's writing style is spot on and is what pulled me through the disconnect from the characters. Her writing has a sort of whimsy to it, but the sentences aren't typically long and rambling, which is interesting. She has sort of a lyrical quality to her words and everything just flows well. It makes the book easy to read in one or two sittings, which is nice.

I definitely liked this book and as I was reading the plot and the whole concept of it was pretty interesting. I never got too invested emotionally in Liz, so even though at the end I really wanted to know how it played out, I would have been okay with either outcome. I think it's a pretty interesting book and worth a read, even if one or two aspects of it did fall a little short.

- Noor

Kiersten's Review of Falling Into Place
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Absolutely brilliant

I know Noor thought Falling Into Place fell short in some aspects, but I absolutely loved it.

I picked up an ARC of Falling Into Place at BEA this year. With a blurb that begins, "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," I was completely drawn to this story. As it turns out, this is also the first line of the book and the start to the reader's journey through Liz's life.

One of the most important things about this book is how it's told. Firstly, the story is told in a non-linear path, starting with when Liz crashes her car and alternating between the future and the past, showing us how Liz got to crashing her car and what happened after. Then, there's the voice the story is told in. The narrator that Amy Zhang chose for this story was one that sort of struck me as odd at first, but the more I think about it the more I think the choice adds so much to the over all feeling of the story.

The other important thing about this book is the story (duh). Liz Emerson is not a nice person - she's a mean girl. With all the bad things Liz has done in the past, it's a miracle that she even still has friends. However, this story isn't about liking Liz or even making her into a nicer person - it's about how despite everyone thinking she had it all together and she had everything a person could want, she didn't feel that way. Liz felt empty and like no one could see her past the front she put up.

While Liz is technically the main character, the story would be nothing without the supporting characters. Amy Zhang was able to capture all of these messed up kids, all with their own struggles. More importantly, though, she was able to show how all those struggles intertwined with Liz and why she drove her car off the road.

I can't tell you how much I loved this book - it's definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. Falling Into Place is such a raw portrayal of how a person can seem a certain way but feel completely different and I think it's something people don't think about everyday. The story was told so beautifully and I can hardly believe that a high school student wrote this seriously brilliant story. Amy Zhang has such impeccable insight for someone so young and I'll definitely be watching for her future works. I highly recommend this to any and everyone, especially if you like contemporary coming of age stories that are heavy but cathartic.

- Kiersten

Amrutha's Review of Falling Into Place
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Flowy

After getting this book at BEA this year, I was super excited to read it, for several reasons: 1) it has a really rad cover, and 2) as Kiersten and Noor have touched upon, an amazing blurb. To be quite honest, it took me a long time to decide quite how I felt about this book. It had a really twisted nonlinear plot, which I thought was done fantastically well. For a first time author, Amy Zhang truly captured a plot about death in away only a nonlinear plot can. It definitely held my interest -- I read this all in one setting. Like Noor said before, it was really the writing style that captured my attention in terms of this book -- it is usually so hard for me to find first time authors who's style of arranging plot and poetic syntax I can really appreciate, so when I find one, I tend to be excited for future books.

However, Falling into Place only earns a 3 star rating from me. Although the writing style was interesting, I found myself pulling away from the characters, especially Liz, our protagonist. I've read quite a few books about suicide and I feel as though there are so many ways to make a dying protagonist likable, and that just didn't happen here. I don't know what it was, but I didn't connect to Liz, our queen bee/suicidal chick as well as I should have as a main character.

Moreover, a huge problem I had with this book was the narrator. In the beginning, I thought an unknown narrator would be interesting, especially one that would be revealed at the end, but it became quite obvious pretty early on what was happening. It kind of took away from the mystery of the book, and I feel as though it contributed to me not feeling as much for the characters. While omnipotent narrators are great when written well, I feel like Falling into Place didn't capture the feelings of all the characters as accurately as it could have. I was so interested in Liam as a character, like Noor was, but it was so unfortunate that all I learned about him really was that he was in love with the protagonist. I wish there had been more elaboration on the minor characters in the story, because to be honest, I liked them a lot more than I liked Liz.

If I'd really suggest reading this book for one particular reason, it'd be for the writing style. Amy Zhang has so much potential and really has the ability to tell a story in a way that is both enticing and unique. I only wish that what little suspense there was with the narrator had lasted longer, and that the omnipotent narrator would have said more about the other characters. Other than that, I really did enjoy the book, and I look forward to reading more from Zhang.

- Amrutha

Do you like stories that are nonlinear?
Let us know in the comments!

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