Published by Greenwillow Books on March 22nd 2016
Pages: 304 •Goodreads
Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivien moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship—as long as no one finds out about it. But then Janie goes missing and everything Micah thought he knew about his best friend is colored with doubt.
Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance in a second novel.
“Miracles do not belong to religions. Miracles belong to the desperate, which is why every religion, every philosophy, and most importantly, every fairy tale always has a moment of salvation, a eureka, an enlightenment.”
It’s rare that I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into with a book, but This is Where the World Ends can’t really be explained in any other way for me. Like everyone else, I had heard a lot of people rave about the author’s debut, Falling Into Place, so when I saw her second novel available immediately on Overdrive I thought it would be a great book to read on my phone as a contemporary on-the-go selection (I usually always have a book queued up and ready to go on my phone because YOU JUST NEVER KNOW when you’ll need one). While the writing was definitely strong and it’s a style I’d return to, everything else about This is Where the World Ends was unfortunately kind of a mess. The plot was all over the place, the ending was too abrupt, and a huge event happens in the middle of the book that changes the tone of the novel in a big way.
This is Where the World Ends is a dark novel. This in and of itself is not a problem for me, as I tend to favor heavier contemporaries and don’t mind books that tackle tough topics. Life is often unfair and cruel, and there’s a raw honesty that comes across in the pages of this book that really drive home that message. However, what was hard for me when reading this book was not the cruelty of fate that the characters encountered, but rather the disdain I fostered toward the characters themselves, often driven by their own cruelty and stupidity. Janie is a manic-pixie-dream-girl type in a lot of ways, and even putting my dislike for characters like that aside, she was just not a genuine or kind human being. She treated Micah like literal human garbage, using him and manipulating him over and over again, yet had the audacity to internally monologue about how much she loved him and how they were one soul. While this at first fostered a bit of sympathy for Micah from me, that was quickly eradicated by his complete lack of self-respect and dignity…there’s comes a time when you have to draw a line in the sand and make people accountable for how they let others treat them, and Micah always ended up enabling Janie. Basically everyone in this book was horrid and unpleasant and it’s a crash course in Toxic Relationships 101.
*Spoilers discussed in the next paragraph! You’ve been warned*
Then there’s the issue of plot. While the synopsis definitely gives you a general overview of the plot (Janie goes missing, Micah is faced with the revelation that she wasn’t that decent of a human being, etc.) it also omits an important plot point: About halfway through the novel, it is revealed that Janie is raped. Now I’m not someone who believes trigger warnings should be placed on everything, but I was pretty surprised that it was integrated into the plot in such a huge way and isn’t at least alluded to before readers start the novel. The story actually presents a very hard look on high school rape culture, as Janie doesn’t even have the chance to process what’s happened to her and seek help before she learns that Ander, the perpetrator, has already spread the rumor that she’s pretending she was raped because she regrets that they were intimate. Janie’s social fate is sealed for her before she even has a chance to make a decision on how to approach the issue of what happened to her, and it’s so very, very sad but also very true. As Janie continues to deal with the harassment from her peers (harassment for being a victim, which is so, so horrible) it’s implied that Ander will most likely get away with what he did, especially after Janie dies. It’s such a bitter note to end the novel on, but powerful in its depressing realism that so often these crimes go unreported and unpunished.
While the story tackles some really intense issues, the final element that made it impossible for me to rate it higher that I did was the abrupt ending. Micah finally remembers what happened to Janie (after his convenient plot amnesia which is starting to get really overdone), almost does something drastic, and then comes to the conclusion that everyone should stop being terrible friends to each other. But there’s no action taken from this revelation, it’s merely stated by his only other friend, and Micah is basically like “Yep that’s it, that’s the key to life, nothing more to see here folks.” I was literally dumbfounded when I reached the end because after such an emotional story, the ending felt thoroughly inadequate.
Overall: This is Where the World Ends is no doubt a novel written by a competent writer. It deals with searing subjects in a raw and unfiltered way, and I really admire Amy Zhang for that. However, the disjointed feeling of the plot, completely toxic relationships, and abrupt ending heavily factored into my overall rating of the book. I’d definitely try this author again, but this book was a miss for me.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge 2016