Amy Zhang’s novel Falling Into Place tells the story of sixteen-year-old Liz Emerson’s journey from happy child to miserable teen and the drastic choice she makes in an effort to end her emotional pain.
On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s Law of Motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.
Zhang’s elliptical novel cuts back and forth through time, unraveling Liz’s story in little non-linear pieces, while also offering us insight into the lives of Liz’s friends Kennie and Julia. Adults are pretty much non-existent in this story; Liz’s widowed mother is often away on business, leaving Liz to her own devices. (This usually means she’s partying & making out with random people, drinking alone or making herself puke.)
Liz’s car accident is no accident. She meticulously plans the event to look like an accident because she can’t stand the mess of her life – some of which is beyond her control, but some of which she created for herself. She reaches out, at the last minute, to her school’s guidance counselor, but he’s an ineffective lump (of course he is) and by then Liz has really already made up her mind.
Liz and her friends are shrill and often unkind and not entirely likeable. Which was a problem for me. An unnamed first-person character recalls when Liz was happy and full of love, but it will be relatively obvious who that person is for careful readers.
She cannot bear to catch fireflies in jars. She hates zoos. She will not let her father teach her about constellations, because she will not trap the stars. She lives in a world made entirely of sky.
Although I didn’t find Liz particularly sympathetic, the glimpses into her childhood do humanize her. Her casual cruelty and lack of empathy, although perhaps realistic enough in today’s world, just didn’t work here the way it might work in a novel by someone like Courtney Summers. None of the characters felt real to me; they felt like shells.
Whether or not Liz survives her ‘accident’ is perhaps what will keep readers turning the pages, but for me, there was no real skin in the game.