Book Reviews

How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao: ARC Book Review

This is a spoiler-free review.

How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

Published August 17th, 2021 by Bloomsbury YA.

My rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In a YA thriller that is Crazy Rich Asians meets One of Us is Lying, students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead.

Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top-ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “the Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app.

They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow the Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford, like Nancy’s full scholarship. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too.

Katie Zhao’s YA debut is an edge-of-your-seat drama set in the pressure-cooker world of academics and image at Sinclair Prep, where the past threatens the future these teens have carefully crafted for themselves. How We Fall Apart is the irresistible, addicting, Asian-American recast of Gossip Girl that we’ve all been waiting for.

Thank you to the publisher, Bloomsbury Children’s Books/YA, and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book. All thoughts are my own.

I wanted to tell Jack that the reason I got top grades was because I couldn’t not get them. Could not let my parents’ sacrifices and dreams go to waste. Me, putting on this same school uniform every day, this same flimsy costume of immigrant success.

Katie Zhao pitches How We Fall Apart as: “an Asian American high school student is found murdered, and her high-achieving friends become the prime suspects.” And with a premise like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued? As a fan of dark academia, YA mystery/thrillers, and a long-time lover of trashy teen shows like Gossip Girl, I definitely had high hopes for How We Fall Apart!

Unfortunately, this novel did not live up to the expectations I had built up in my mind; which isn’t to say that this book wasn’t enjoyable, because it most certainly was! But it read a little immature for my tastes. While the topics touched on were more mature, I felt the writing style and the way things were glossed over or only hinted at made it feel more juvenile to me.

I wish the characters could have been given more depth. I think every single one of them had the potential to be full, well-rounded individuals, but the narration remained too surface level to ever feel like as a reader you were getting the full picture. I mentioned trashy teen shows before, and How we Fall Apart truly felt like one. The dialogue felt unrealistic at times, a lot of the character’s motives didn’t make much sense, scenes that didn’t feel that dramatic were given a lot of gravitas, and even at the end, it felt like a lot wasn’t resolved.

I did really appreciate how this story shed light on the impact the pressure to be perfect and live up to your parents’ expectations can have for children within the Asian American community. The criticism of the ultra-competitive nature these high-achieving school environments nurture and the racism embedded within the model minority status so many Asian Americans feel beholden to was so needed.

What I think would have made this story all the more memorable for me would have been a deeper dive into its main characters and further scrutinization of the challenging topics it started to address. It felt like there was a lot of untapped potential, that if better explored could have pushed this book to the next level. Even still, I think this book has a lot to offer and is a great recommendation for a younger audience.

Have you read How We Fall Apart?

What did you think of it?

Let me know!

Liza is a twenty-something book blogger who spends way too much time with her nose in books and feels way too much. She loves cooking, baking, reality tv show watching and, of course, reading. She can be found most often with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Her blog, Literary Liza, features bookish content like reviews, recommendations, and author interviews.

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