Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: The Fall of Lisa Bellow

Summary: The breakout novel from the critically acclaimed author of the short story collections Who I Was Supposed to Be and Why They Run the Way They Do—when a middle school girl is abducted in broad daylight, a fellow student and witness to the crime copes with the tragedy in an unforgettable way.

What happens to the girl left behind?

A masked man with a gun enters a sandwich shop in broad daylight, and Meredith Oliver suddenly finds herself ordered to the filthy floor, where she cowers face to face with her nemesis, Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in her eighth grade class. The minutes tick inexorably by, and Meredith lurches between comforting the sobbing Lisa and imagining her own impending death. Then the man orders Lisa Bellow to stand and come with him, leaving Meredith the girl left behind.

After Lisa’s abduction, Meredith spends most days in her room. As the community stages vigils and searches, Claire, Meredith’s mother, is torn between relief that her daughter is alive, and helplessness over her inability to protect or even comfort her child. Her daughter is here, but not.

Like Everything I Never Told You and Room, The Fall of Lisa Bellow is edgy and original, a hair-raising exploration of the ripple effects of an unthinkable crime. It is a dark, beautifully rendered, and gripping novel about coping, about coming-of-age, and about forgiveness. It is also a beautiful illustration of how one family, broken by tragedy, finds healing. -- Simon & Schuster

I don't know why I was thinking that THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW by Susan Perabo was a thriller (maybe the cover?); and while it did have a bit of a mystery aspect to the story, this novel ended up being a beautiful example of literary fiction. Quite honestly, I was extremely impressed with Ms. Perabo's writing and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW tells the story of the fallout after an armed robbery at a sandwich store. Meredith Oliver is a 13 year old girl who randomly decides to stop at a neighborhood deli after school one day. When she gets there, she finds that Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in the school (and, truth be told, a bit of a mean girl) is also there. Much to her shock, a masked man enters the shop and demands for her and Lisa to drop to the floor. He then grabs Lisa and takes off in a car while leaving Meredith behind.

Meredith is, of course, deeply affected by the crime. While physically she is fine, her mental state is a bit of a mess; and she winds up spending most of her time in her room... not wanting to discuss what happened. Her parents, Mark and Claire, are relieved that their daughter is still with them; however, they struggle with trying to help their daughter heal. Meanwhile, Meredith is trying to come to terms with her own version of survivor's guilt; and she escapes to an imaginary world to help her cope.

THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW really does a wonderful job of delving into the dynamics of a family who is facing a tragedy, so it's no surprise that I adored this book. (I do love me a good story about a dysfunctional family!) I absolutely loved the characters in this novel as well as how fully developed they were. Truly, THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW is a very special and thought-provoking book.

First and foremost, I found the character of Meredith to be extremely well-written. I love the basis for this novel -- what happens to the girl who's left behind, and I thought Ms. Perabo did a stellar job in bringing Meredith's character to life. I found her to be extremely realistic and her mechanisms for coping with the tragedy almost haunted me with their desperation.

I also really liked Meredith's brother and her father Mark. As is the case in any family, when something happens to one person, it affects everyone. I found the way the author portrayed these two men to be so true, and it was very interesting to see how each one of them dealt with Meredith.

However, it was the character of Claire that really resonated with me. As a mother to two children, I found her to be so genuine... even (and maybe especially) in her weaknesses as a wife and mother. Claire only wanted what was best for Meredith, but she quickly realized that she couldn't "reach" her. Needless to say, my heart broke for both of them. I also really appreciated how the author provided so much of a backstory for Claire. You see, Meredith's trauma wasn't the first one that this family experienced. Meredith's older brother was a promising baseball star who had suffered a devastating eye injury, so Claire already had some experience in dealing with a "broken" child. I loved how she wanted to not only help them but also protect them.

You are probably reading this review and thinking that THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW is one major downer... but you'd be wrong. Somehow, Ms. Perabo managed to infuse lighter moments, and even some truly funny ones, into the story. Furthermore, she demonstrated hope and resilience for each of the characters.

THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW would make an outstanding book club selection. Seriously, you need to consider this book! There is a reading guide available with fifteen questions as well as some recommendations for enhancing your book club meeting; and many of the questions reference some of the more literary aspects of the story. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, guilt, coping mechanisms, change, forgiveness, and healing.

All in all, I loved THE FALL OF LISA BELLOW. Highly recommended to fans of literary fiction!

I received a copy of this novel at last year's SIBA.


bermudaonion said...

If the author was able to add lighter moments to a book like that she must be a great writer!

The Book Sage said...

You've got me pretty much sold. And did I already tell you that I saw the author of Homegoing? She's a local (Northern California). It just so happens that it's a heck of a book.

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

This sounds so intriguing. And I like the cover. It is mysterious so I can see how you thought it was in that genre.