What does it mean to become a daughter? A sister? A friend? A person? What defines us in this world? When can we consider giving up as an option? Is it right to judge a person solely by his actions? In this poignant debut novel, Amy Zhang fascinates readers by touching topics about acceptance, guilt, trust and hope.
The main protagonist, Liz Emerson, is caught in a dilemma caused by her own actions. Her family background is not at all pretty. Her father died and her mother is always away. Having no siblings, her friends, Julie and Kennie, became the only people that she can turn to. But that did not end up well. The stillness at their house when she goes home is so defeaning that it made her so lonely and going out is what she always wanted to do. Her loneliness, anxiety and grief turned her into a different person. She became broken inside. Being a popular girl in school always made things easy for her but that didn’t help her divert her focus. Instead, that made her easily choose a prey. She made unforgivable things to entertain herself and the people around her. She became so emotionally unstable that she started doing some things even though that register to her as unacceptable. They started to bully their schoolmates. Liz and her two friends served as puppets to each other. Her actions made a domino effect that affected not only the three of them but also a lot of people around them.
Their lesson in physics about the Laws of Motion was put in play. She then slowly understood the gravity of what she has done, that all her actions made equal and opposite reactions from the people around her. Abortion, drug abuse, pre-marital sex, bullying, rape, the list became endless. She tried to find hope and change her ways but it all became futile. She can’t find an outlet to release what she really feels. People regard her highly but that complicated things more as people did not believe her when she started showing how she really feel. That’s when she realized what she has done, she thought that it was all too late and the only way to stop their lives from spiraling down is to end her life. She decided to drive her car off a cliff and by doing that, she believes, that all that people that she’s been affected will heal their wounds and start anew. Is it too late to save Liz Emerson?
The writing is somewhat haunting and lyrical. I was able to feel the depression and the emotional unrest of Liz. The author was able to successfully convey the message of loss and loneliness that instead of hating Liz because of how insensitive her actions were, I was able to connect to her. That doesn’t mean though that her bad actions were justified because a lot of the things that she did are all uncalled for but there’s something in the writing that made me understand her.
The author was successful in giving her readers the background of the story. I like how she made the connection between the characters so strong and complex that made the plot even more intense. Telling the book through someone who’s unknown also worked well with the book. It made the characters even more fleshed out and made the scenes even more felt. One thing that is also worth noting was how ingenious the author in integrating different theories in physics in the story that really captured the exact same scenes. Mass, velocity, gravity and acceleration became part of the prose that furthermore accentuated the story.
Even though I did enjoy the story and the writing, what I’m not a fan of is the way the story was narrated. It was told in a nonlinear format and I find it too all over the place. It might have worked for me better if the events were arranged chronologically instead of jumping from “Forty-Nine Minutes Before Liz Emerson Crashed Her Car” to “7 days Before Liz Emerson Crashed Her Car” then back to “3 Hours Before Liz Emerson Crashed her car.” Although the book’s flashbacks worked for me to better understand the characters (and normally I don’t have problems with it when I am reading a book), What I do not appreciate is when it is done by a book with short chapters like this book. Each chapter is short and it moves to and fro and I sometimes find myself lost as to where the story already is. It came to a point when it became too annoying and dragging for me as I always have to re-orient myself. As I was reading, this format preempted my emotions which eventually affected my excitement to know the ending.
Overall, I can say though that this is still a good book. It has a lot of noteworthy lines that I really savored. I can recommend this to everyone who enjoyed If I Stay and Thirteen Reasons Why. Maybe in the future, I can read this book again but by that time I’ll try to do it in just one sitting because I believe the book’s narration calls for it. For someone who seldom reads a book in just one sitting, how the story was structured just did not work for me.
3 star out of 5.
Author: Amy Zhang
Part of a Series: No
Release Year: July 2015 (First Published September 2014)
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
No. of Pages: 320 pages
About the Author
Amy Zhang used to have lots of imaginary friends. When people told her to grow up, she turned her imaginary friends into characters and started telling their stories. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing piano, hitting balls on the tennis court, or struggling through her weekly existential crisis. She lives in Wisconsin with her family. (Photo and About the Author courtesy of Goodreads)