Title: How We Fall Apart
Series: How We Fall Apart #1
Author: Katie Zhao
Genre: YA, Mystery
Published: August 17th, 2021 (Bloomsbury YA)
Synopsis: 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.
When popular, rich, top ranked junior Jamie Ruan disappears and is later found dead, the news takes the elite Sinclair Prep high school by shock, especially her four former best friends Nancy, Krystal, Alexander and Akil. When a mysterious person calling themself The Proctor sends out a cryptic, accusatory message to everyone in the school, the four friends become the prime suspects. And while they know they didn’t have anything to do with Jamie’s death, they all certainly have secrets that they don’t want getting out, secrets that Jamie knew and that The Proctor now knows too. The four of them must work together to discover the killer before The Proctor makes good on their threat and reveals secrets that could destroy their lives.
This was a fast paced thriller that drops the reader straight into the story right from the beginning. Narrated through Nancy’s perspective as a combination of present day events and occasional flashbacks, the plot flowed smoothly and despite not taking any time to really set the scene at the beginning of the book, it was easy to follow. While the mystery itself is somewhat reminiscent of One of Us Is Lying, it also explores many other themes, from mental health, privilege, competitive academic environments and the pressure that children of immigrants face to do well. This was a quick and easy read, and while the writing wasn’t particularly exceptional, it was engaging and kept me turning the pages, wanting to know how it would end.
I thought it was quite impressive how much background about the characters was provided given how short the book was, and despite only Nancy having a POV, we get to know a lot about the struggles each character is going through. It would have been really interesting to have POVs for the other three main characters though, and it could have added more depth to the story too.
However, it was entirely the plot that made me keep reading this book. The characters, though interesting, were really hard to root for, as with all the shady secrets they were keeping, none of them, Jamie least of all, were particularly innocent. I also think I’m over the whole high school drama stuff that seems to be a recurring trope in many YA novels and was hoping for something a little different.
As for the mystery itself, the murderer was so unexpected as they hadn’t even been introduced as a possibility before hand, and while it stretched credulity and was more than a little melodramatic, it was still a great twist. What I’m more curious however, is that given that this book seems to have wrapped up things pretty well with only a few questions unanswered, what exactly is the sequel going to be about? Overall, this was a pretty good read and I liked it, though I do feel that it would appeal more to the younger side of the YA audience. I would recommend this for any mystery fans!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!