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The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo
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The Fall of Lisa Bellow

by Susan Perabo

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The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is a highly recommended complex family drama about survivor's guilt.

Meredith Oliver is thirteen and in the eighth grade. She and her friends watch and discuss the popular mean girls at their school, including Lisa Bellows, whose locker is next to Meredith's. It is a struggle for anyone to get through the day when in middle school. Meredith's family is still recovering from the horrible accident her adored older brother had when playing baseball. Now he's essentially blind in one eye. All Meredith wants to do is get through this day in October and stop to get a root beer at the Deli Barn after school.

When Meredith gets to the Deli Barn, she sees that Lisa Bellows is already there, so she has to wait for Lisa to order her two sandwiches. Suddenly a masked gun man enters the sandwich shop. He orders both girls to get on the floor and robs the place. The two girls cower together on the floor, alternately giving each other support. Before the gun man leaves he tells Lisa to get up and come with him. Meredith remains on the floor, completely paralyzed with fear, until a customer comes in, a janitor at her school, and calls the police. Meredith is traumatized, trying to deal with witnessing the kidnapping, being the girl left behind, and processing all her feeling about the event.

The narrative has chapters alternating between two characters, following the thoughts and emotions of Meredith and Claire Oliver, her mother. While Meredith is trying to understand why she was the one left behind and find some answers, if only in her head. Claire is relieved her daughter was not taken, but struggles with confronting her inability to protect her children or even comfort them.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a very well-written book and was compelling enough that, staying up a bit too late, I read it in one sitting. I simply had to find out what happened. Perabo manages to capture and realistically portray the inner voice and struggles of both a thirteen-year old girl and her mother. This is a feat in itself. Both Meredith and Claire are strong characters who are dealing with their unspeakable mental anguish in their own way. They are also both well developed characters and strikingly realistic - neither of them are particularly likable. The depiction of Meredith struggling with survivor's guilt and trying to process what happened is especially effective.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2017/03/the-fall-of-lisa-bellow.html
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1939121206 ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 12, 2017 |
When Meredith Oliver is the lucky girl left behind after a robber abducts her eighth grade classmate Lisa Bellow, she is not the only one traumatized. The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, looks at the aftereffects of trauma on Meredith and her family. She is the lucky one. Lisa Bellow is gone and her mother, Coleen, and her school friends are also struggling with their grief. The primary focus, though, is on Meredith and her mother Claire.

It’s not that the Oliver family didn’t have enough to deal with. Earlier that year, Evan, Meredith’s beloved older brother was blinded in one eye by an errant baseball, a simple accident with no one to blame. Evan did not just lose vision in one eye, he lost his possible baseball career, scholarships to college and the easy athletic primacy he enjoyed. Essentially, he lost the identity he had known and was struggling to find a new one for himself.

Claire and Mark Oliver seem to have the perfect marriage, so long as you don’t examine it closely. But trauma makes you examine everything and the flaws that were bearable become less so. Meanwhile, Meredith is drawn to Lisa’s circle of friends, mean girls who had no time for her before. She is also talking to Lisa. She knows what happened and is happening to Lisa with the kidnapper, that Lisa is being comforted by a little dog named Annie, that Lisa is being raped though it’s happening out of Meredith’s sight, she is also seeing what would happen if the kidnapper had chosen both of them. We know and Meredith’s parents know she needs help, but what kind and how?

The Fall of Lisa Bellow is an effective family drama, an exploration of the silences and absences of family life, the sudden chasms that erupt between people who love each other. It is also a book about family love, deep and abiding, even violent and superhuman. Claire loves her children fiercely, even when they are fighting her. There is a shocking scene where she exacts petty revenge against a child who bullies her son–and she’s not sorry. She will never be sorry. She understands Coleen Bellow’s anger and pain, even if she feels glad it’s not her pain.

This is a compulsive read that takes us from the first day of school until Christmas vacation, the Fall of Lisa Bellow, the Fall that fractures a family and offers hope that they will knit back together. When Perabo writes about the compulsive power of maternal love, she is at her most poetic and lyrical. This is the best writing in the book.

There is a troublesome suggestion when Meredith is imagining that the abductor has sex with Lisa, that it isn’t exactly rape, defining rape as someone jumping out of the bushes and tearing your clothes off. I don’t know how being abducted at gunpoint differs from jumping out of a bush, but Meredith is in eighth grade and clearly ill-informed about sex and rape and the difference between them. She thinks it must be unpleasant but not horrible. I am sure the author knows better, that sex and rape are not on the same spectrum, that rape is violence–about power, not sex. However, this never gets corrected. It would be one thing if there is any corrective to this idea, but there is not. Meredith is young, so are her friends, and she’s not talking to her family.

I would not recommend this book to young people without some serious discussion of this fallacy because it really sucks. The book is interesting and I cared about the people, but just because an eighth grade girl is likely to have internalized rape culture to the degree that she thinks an adult kidnapper forcing an eighth-grader to have sex is not exactly rape does not mean it should stand without correction. Yes, it’s very likely girls that age may think that. Someone needs to set it straight in the book. Uncorrected, uncontradicted, it’s dangerous and irresponsible.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow will be released March 14th. I was provided an e-galley for review by the publisher through NetGalley.

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2017/02/23/9781476761466/ ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Feb 23, 2017 |
I'm not really sure how I should review this book. I didn't find it a thriller. I didn't find it suspenseful. Actually I found myself shaking my head a lot, like what is going on here. There was one point in the book where there were about 5 or 6 pages that the scene from the sandwich shop was rewritten just exactly as it was previously and I thought that the book was messed up. That somehow the pages were going to be repeated all over again.

The bathtub scenes really kept throwing me for a loop. I'm not sure exactly what they were supposed to mean. I mean Meredith was a strange girl, was she dreaming that or was she just crazy?

I just didn't really get this book at all. Sorry.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  debkrenzer | Feb 19, 2017 |
In The Fall of Lisa Bellow a young girl, Lisa, is abducted from a local sandwich shop, another, Meredith, is left behind. What follows is not the standard suspense book about the search for a missing teen, but an examination of the life of a suburban family and in particular, that of the girl who remains.

Mark and Claire Oliver are dentists. They have consciously chosen careers and a life that will offer them the least amount of inconvenience and worry. Son Evan’s tragic accident on the baseball field has marred their picture-perfect life. Now they must deal with daughter Meredith’s terrifying experience. It threatens to topple their happy home. This is the main focus of the novel.

Having taught middle school English, when it comes to the behaviors of Lisa, Meredith and their friends, I can say Ms. Perabo knows her subject. In addition, the description of the middle school cliques made me inwardly cringe as I remember my own days, suffering through lunch hour, gym class, and those hours when I wasn’t safely cocooned in my room, away from the scrutiny of those deemed more popular than I. And as reprehensible as Claire Oliver’s reactions may be towards Evan’s preschool bullying and Meredith’s unpopularity, I as a mother understand.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow is an excellently crafted and sensitive book that examines the human emotions and reactions to a tragedy and its far-reaching effects. ( )
  bayleaf | Jan 11, 2017 |
An insightful and sometimes uncanny story about relationships, trauma, and the darkest corners of our secret selves.

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape.)

There were still little green ribbons covering Lisa’s locker, but every morning some would have fallen down overnight, scattered like tiny leaves, and she would pick them up and toss them into the bottom of her own locker. How long would they let that locker, 64C, sit there, unused? How long did missing-person ribbons stay up? Was there an expiration date, some point where they officially became irrelevant, a day when the fall of Lisa Bellow became the winter of someone else, as Evan had predicted from the start?

###

“You’re popular,” Jules said. “I can’t believe it. Of all of us, I didn’t think it would be you first.”

###

Maybe they were all bitches, Claire thought. Maybe that was all there was to be in eighth grade. Maybe you didn’t have any choice. Maybe your only choice was figuring out what kind of bitch you wanted to be.

###

One crisp October afternoon, thirteen-year-old Meredith Oliver stops by the Deli Barn on the way home from school, to treat herself to a root beer soda for a job well done on her algebra test. Ahead of her in line stands her arch nemesis, Parkway North Middle School's resident Mean Girl, Lisa Bellow. Her presence so unnerves Meredith that she almost turned tail and ran - that is, until Lisa caught her eye through the door. She couldn't show Lisa any weakness, not with so much at stake.

As the sandwich farmer* is taking Lisa's order (overly complicated, natch), a masked man strides in and robs the cashier at gunpoint. He forces Meredith and Lisa to lay down on the sticky floor of the restaurant while he walks the cashier to the back of the store, in search of a safe that doesn't exist. When he comes back - alone - he forces Lisa to her feet and leaves with her. Traumatized, Meredith stays on the floor for another eleven minutes ("eleven glorious minutes"), until another customer walks in and find her. Even then, it takes a group of paramedics and "a needle full of Thorazine to peel her from her cherished spot."

The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a strange and wonderful book. It's about how Meredith copes with the trauma of the robbery and kidnapping, yes; but hers is not the only trauma we bear witness to. Meredith's mother, Claire; her seventeen-year-old brother Ethan; Lisa's mother Colleen; and Lisa's friends Becca, Abby, and Amanda - all of them are working through their own "stuff," not all of it related to Lisa's disappearance. Yet the ripples of her kidnapping and likely murder reverberate through all their lives.

Above all else, though, this is a story about relationships: between parents and children; friends and enemies; in-groups and out-groups. Perabo's writing is keen and insightful, often times cuttingly so: I found that both the child and the adult in me could relate to Meredith and Claire's inner monologues like whoah. When Meredith laments that

"It had been all downhill since fifth grade. Sometimes she looked back on that golden year and felt a pang of nostalgia so keenly that she thought she might actually die."

my stomach actually twisted in sympathy and recognition, albeit for slightly different reasons. (My school district's lines were redrawn in the summer between fifth and sixth grade, and I had to finish out my elementary education at a different school than my friends. I also got glasses, braces, and my period that year. It was literal hell, and nothing was the same after.)

Perabo isn't afraid to explore the darker, uglier corners of our secret selves, and the result is often uncomfortable - but also deeply satisfying. When Claire admitted to Mark that she deliberately hurt Evan's bully when she found him sitting in her chair - "Rewind, she thought. Rewind. She actually almost prayed this word: rewind." - I nearly squealed with shared horror and regret. Like, the panic was palpable, a thing I could hold in my hand and caress.

While the first half of the story feels like a contemporary, firmly rooted in reality, there's a weird, M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist halfway through that cleaves the story in two. You're left trying to distinguish reality from fantasy. Normally, this wondering can come to dominate a story (this isn't a complaint, just an observation), yet this isn't the case with The Fall of Lisa Bellow: Perabo's writing is so masterful that you still see the forest for the trees. It's the little details, not to mention the painfully believable dialogue, that make this story sing - and scream.

That said, I wasn't completely satisfied with the resolution, which felt a little rushed and ... maybe a bit of a bait and switch?

Nevertheless, I'd definitely read it again, if given a do-over: Perabo's psychological insights are 110% worth it.

* I love this term so much, I just had to sneak it into the review. No regrets.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2017/03/15/the-fall-of-lisa-bellow-by-susan-perabo/ ( )
  smiteme | Dec 30, 2016 |
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