A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Guest reviewer Susan Vollenweider is one half of the History Chicks podcasting team, and is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.
Rainy spring Sunday. Luncheon dishes cleaned, family settled around the house– everyone being lazy. A Saturday night podcast recording session had required quite a bit of historical non-fiction research and left me a little drained. I needed a brain break.
Not a long one, I love my historical non-fiction and had several books in progress but this brain needs fiction. An escape. A read purely for the joy of reading. A read to love a book and appreciate an author not for what they can teach me, but for how they can make me feel. That rainy Sunday I cracked open This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang.
Let’s just get this out of the way first: This is a YA novel intended for readers 14 and up. I am “and up”. End of discussion.
Zhang’s first novel, Falling Into Place, is on the top shelf of my (figurative) Favorite Books library. I first read it in one magnificent, snowy, winter afternoon curled up in my favorite reading chair downing many cups of tea and feeling things because of written words.
I wanted a similar experience.
I got it.
(Not exactly, of course, I wanted the ride but I didn’t want to know the route.)
Micah and Janie. Janie and Micah. Two lifelong friends with a complex history and an often inexplicable, yet just as often obvious, reason to be drawn together. They have adventures, secrets and a deep, atomic level understanding of each other. But when Micah wakes in a hospital with a lot of pain, a raging hangover and no recall of the night before, he can’t find Janie. The police want to talk to him, no one is answering his questions and he is left with a crumbled up, life-encompassing puzzle. In a non-linear style with dual narrators, one in past tense and one in present tense, Zhang unfolds and reassembles the pieces.
The most oxymoronic sentence I will ever write: It’s a tale of suicide and rape; of the cruelty of teenagers and their mistake filled coping skills—it was glorious.
And really depressing. Really heartbreaking. Really charming. Really sad, but the operative word here? “Really.”
Zhang is skilled at not buffing out the flawed rough spots of teenage characters and allows them to read as real teenagers full of multi-dimensional contradictions: conflicted, confident, kind, rude, confused; of feeling deeply one moment then not thinking of the consequences of thoughtless actions the next.
Zhang’s style is poetic. There are some actual poems woven in the story, but even the narrative reads as one. I had several Stop and Re-read That Sentence for the Beauty of It moments in both. On that rainy Sunday afternoon, I escaped with Micah and Janie and felt the teeter-tottering emotions of two lives derailed because of harsh realities in our world.
It was glorious.
Amy Zhang, This is Where the World Ends (Harper Collins, 2015) ISBN 9780062383044