One of my all-time favorite books is “Falling into Place” by Amy Zhang, so when I heard she was coming out with a sophomore novel I had to read it.
But when I finally did read it, I was disappointed. Zhang writes beautifully and the plot for her first novel, “Falling into Place,” was well thought out and drew out emotion.
But for her second book, “This is Where the World Ends,” I felt like Zhang was trying to fit too many story lines and too much heartbreak into one novel. Zhang is usually skillful at portraying the pain and conflict in her teenage characters, and creates rich backstories for them. This time around, however, I felt like I was being bombarded with teen angst.
First, we have the weird, co-dependent friendship of Janie and Micah, the two main characters. The chapters alternate between the two, telling a dark story about the problems some high schoolers face. The two also serve as polar opposites.
Janie is outgoing and creative, yet childish and naïve to the point of her character being unrealistic. She’s a senior in high school, but the way she acts makes the reader feel like Janie is actually a freshman in high school.
Then we have Micah, who is basically everything Janie is not, but is also a much better, more complex character. He is the shy, rational side of the Janie and Micah dynamic. He also happens to worship Janie, which makes him pretty much a complete pushover. The book starts with Micah not being able to remember what exactly happened to Janie due to a brain injury, which was unnecessary and didn’t do much for the plot.
The biggest red flag in this story is that even though Janie and Micah are best friends, they never talk at school. Actually, they pretend not to know each other at all. It makes no sense, but it is a big factor into what happens to Janie, who is missing in the beginning of the novel.
If you read “Falling into Place” before “This is Where the World Ends,” you’ll know that mental illness is a common theme in Zhang’s writing. I’ve read a couple of books about young adults dealing with mental illnesses, and it’s not hard to figure out that this book is going down the same road.
The biggest underlying idea of the novel is basically about toxic friendships. Janie is controlling and constantly plays with Micah’s feelings, and it’s unclear what she truly wants out of the friendship.
Micah realizes that there is something going on with Janie, but never presses her to tell him what exactly is going on. Therefore, he is one of the people who fails her in the end. Another one of Janie’s friends also fails her in an even bigger way – ignoring her pleads for help and not believing anything she says. It’s Micah (and this other minor character) that have the biggest impact on where the plot is going.
Also, there needs to be premonition to what happens later in the book. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is sexual assault in the story. It would’ve been nice to have more of a warning of what was going to happen, because I had no idea before reading the book that sexual assault was going to be a part of the storyline. So here’s your warning now, if you’re planning on reading the book.
It’s also about unhealthy relationships. The first part of the book, Janie is pining after this boy who, honestly, is just boring. The whole reason why Janie wants to date him is superficial – she thinks they’ll look great together and they’re both popular. This appeals to Janie, who enacts a plan to get this guy to be her boyfriend. It plays in well with the whole high school angst thing Zhang has going on, but then we find out that Janie’s boyfriend is actually evil. If you hadn’t guessed it yet, Janie’s boyfriend ends up sexually assaulting her after a night of them and their friends drinking heavily for a few hours. It’s a horrifying scene – my heart was beating crazy fast during this part. This is where I think Zhang has some problems.
Sexual assault is such a real, tragic thing that happens among young adults.
It shows the worst that can happen when someone becomes isolated and bullied. Janie starts to get harassed at school because her ex-boyfriend starts spreading around a story that’s very different from what happened. This is also something that is scarily common in high schools, and Zhang has the right idea by trying to elicit emotions from the reader over these sensitive issues, but it would’ve been nice if there was one decent character who tried to help diffuse the situation. But Zhang handles the topic sloppily. The scene does what it should – upsets you.
But I would have liked to see a different ending that handles the topic of sexual assault better. I understand why Zhang ended this story the way she did, to show the darkest side of teenagers’ lives, but it could’ve been handled better.
In the end, almost all of the characters were downright unlikable and hard to feel empathy for. Zhang’s writing is talented and conveys teenage life accurately, but to me it felt like there were too many issues thrown at the reader at once. It would’ve been nice to have a more narrowed down plot.
I’m still looking forward to anything Zhang writes, because she is a great writer, “This is Where the World Ends” was just misguided.