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? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.
Death is a strange thing. It is a fact of existence, and yet death remains an enigma. Death is present in all our actions, in how it shapes our thinking, and permeates everything around us. But where there is death, there is unequivocally life. Falling into Pieces by Amy Zhang is a dark yet tender exploration of the pair, how death touches the living and the dying, the effect and consequences of life, and how we find life in the crevasses of despair.
Zhang paints a haunting depiction of how people respond to death and the dying. Falling to Pieces sensitively and thoroughly explores how different people negotiate death – how it compels them people to grieve over their own mortality or gives them resolve to live again, how it creates small cracks in facades or conversely is used to create facades. Absence is presence in another form – death is just very thought-provoking kind of absence. In moments of unflinching honesty, something dark about human nature is unveiled – how people wrap themselves in death as a means to escape responsibility, how people find conveniences in death and inconveniences in survival – because who would question the biggest, immutable constant in life?
Though this seemingly paints a cynical impression, Zhang’s careful and expert storytelling shows us that humans are a kaleidoscope of colour, tinted by the world around us. Eighteen year olds may have lived for only eighteen years, but they have also lived for 567,993,600 seconds, 9,466,560 minutes, 157,776 hours, and 6574 days. It takes a second to make a decision, a minute to react, an hour for it to be seared into your memory, and days to forget or regret. People are deeply complex and are impossible to reduce; perhaps the intricacies of one’s whole life and depth of one’s consciousness is unfathomable.
In death narratives, there is an unspoken rule to not speak any ill words of the dying – and that is reasonable, right? Yet, in Falling to Pieces, Liz, the girl who may or may not die, is bared wide open for our judgement. When people are dying, we reconstruct their image with rose-coloured glasses. At first, the facts of the crash and probable cause is made known, but as the story progresses, shown through a series of flashbacks and snapshots, the deeper truth of why and how is shown, the truth deconstructed. And it is ugly. It is unpleasant to accept that someone, who is on the edge of life and death and is nothing more than just a stupid, stupid girl, has done horrible, unjustified things that have changed the lives of people around her. But Liz also suffers from bullimia and is intensely lonely and scarred following the death of a loved one. Falling into Place probes its characters from all angles of their lives.
Make no mistake: this is not a story about justifying a girl’s actions; this is a story about how this girl is now dying and how people are coming to terms with it. Reading Liz’s story, we are forced to dig deep within ourselves. It is a book that calls for introspection.
And yet, whilst it may seem like one answer is clear, Zhang adds another layer of depth and complexity. Just as Liz’s life and actions were in motion, changing the things and people around her, the people around her were in motion too. Falling into Pieces is a reminder that every person is a physical vessel of cause and effects. In extension, because of the baggage we carry we are prone to hypocrisy, to mistakes, to regrettable actions, but we are also capable of self-awareness, remorse, forgiveness, and redemption.
Instead she thinks about how it all began, and the regret grows and grows until it’s almost a tangible thing that she can rip out and bury and undo.
The prose is stunningly lyrical, even if its subject is the darker shades of reality and life. I fell in love with Zhang’s beautiful writing immediately. And though the prose remains consistent throughout, that is wherein lies its problem: once the metaphoric writing loses its novelty, the narrator’s repeated emphasis on the tragedy of it and how Liz is broken beyond repair verges on being repetitive. Thankfully, this con is insignificant in the wider picture of the book, and it is still very readable and strangely, given its subject matter, enjoyable.
Falling into Place is a powerful and elegantly written debut, and Zhang is a talented writer. It may not be plot driven, but its excellent and meticulous character analysis is a compelling feature. Though this book examines the grim face of human nature and is laden with vivid analyses and meditations on death and dying, it is an evocative, resonant, and darkly wonderful.
Book Name: Falling into Place
Author: Amy Zhang
Publisher: Greenwillow Books