Author: Amy Zhang
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Date: September 2014
Format: Paperback (296 pages)
Synopsis: 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.
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? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? Is life truly more than cause and effect? 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.
I really, really wanted to love this book and I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a while, but unfortunately I was pretty disappointed. I certainly didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for.
Firstly, the non-linear narrative (which is something I usually enjoy) just didn’t work for me. There are regular chapters set in the present; chapters set a certain amount of time before Liz crashes her car; and small sections called “Snapshots” which are written in the first person voice of the narrator rather than the third person like the rest of the book. While I admire the author’s ability to keep track of all the different timelines and sequences, I found myself getting irritated with all the jumping around.
I think the main problem I had with this book was the characters themselves. I get that Liz is meant to be this tortured soul underneath her popular girl façade, but that just didn’t ring true for me. Even when she acknowledges that she has treated people badly and appears to feel remorse, she still continues to do so and is involved in some seriously nasty bullying. Even when she realises she has the ability to undo some of the damage she’s done, she seems to believe that admitting her mistakes to herself is enough. I just felt like reaching into the pages and shaking her. She left a trail of broken lives behind her but barely lifted a finger to help them. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about her.
I was quite indifferent to Liz’s friend Julia, but her other friend Kennie really bugged me. She just came across as a weak, superficial, annoying character with no real sense of self except what she draws from the opinions of others. I know that we’re supposed to empathise with Julia and Kennie because they’re seriously messed up (thanks in large part to Liz herself) but I felt very little for them. I normally feel very deeply for fictional characters so it was disappointing to feel so disconnected from the ones in this book.
One of the things that kept me reading was curiosity about the identity of the narrator. I was sure I had figured it out near the beginning but I was actually surprised when it was revealed at the end. I haven’t come across that kind of narrator before and I did really like the idea. I also developed a soft spot for Liam, one of Liz’s classmates who is in love with her, as I felt like he was a genuine character and had more depth than the others. He’s the only character I really cared about throughout the novel. The writing itself wasn’t bad and there were a few expressions I actually liked, like this one about Liz: “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.” I also liked the concept of weaving the laws of physics into the story, but I felt this could have been developed more strongly.
I’ve read quite a few YA novels which deal with death and suicide, most notably The Fault in Our Stars and Love Letters to the Dead, but this one just wasn’t on par with them. It’s a lazy-Sunday-afternoon-easy-read and certainly wasn’t terrible, but I’m not shouting from the rooftops about it like I had hoped to be.
Overall Rating: Between and My bookworm rating system is explained here.
Other Works by this Author: This is Amy Zhang’s first novel. You can find out more about her by visiting her website (which has a really cool design!)