Book Review: ‘This is Where the World Ends’ by Amy Zhang

this is where the world endsThis is Where the World Ends is told from two alternating perspectives and centered around an event which is left as yet unexplained in the beginning of the novel, but has resulted in Janie missing and left Micah with selective amnesia. Janie’s part is told prior to her disappearance, while Micah’s deals with the confusing aftermath.

The author has a very particular writing style, which may grate on some people – the following extract provides a pretty clear example of the kind of descriptive prose used in the novel:

It starts raining again. It’s okay. We’ve always liked water. No, that’s not right. Janie loved fire. She loved markers and rocks and fire. I like water, though. I like the way it waits, and when you touch it, it both moves away and clings to your finger. I like the way it rises, like memory, or fear. You told me once that I was made of water, I think. I don’t remember.

Janie also comes across as a manic-pixie dream girl here – but from her own perspective, not Micah’s, if that makes sense. (It’s a term usually associated with the male pining over the ever-so-quirky female love interest, but in this case, it’s Janie’s own narration that makes her sound eccentric and vivid and wild and unattainable.) She’s also not the most likable of characters – she doesn’t treat Micah particularly well at times, and he is towed along in the force of her personality.

Indeed, Micah comes across as a helpless puppy at times – he is in love with Janie, and goes along with her schemes. In fact, it’s hard to get a sense of who Micah is, since everything about him is described in relation to Janie. His chapters are also quite confusing initially, as he struggles to overcome his disorientation in the wake of the accident/incident. He doesn’t take his therapy seriously and is borderline alcoholic.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to describe the friendship between Janie and Micah as toxic, it’s certainly not a healthy one. They don’t associate with each other at school, only after hours, as per Janie’s request. While they certainly have a strong bond and care deeply about one another, they are also bad friends: Micah doesn’t push enough when it’s evident that something is seriously wrong with Janie; he simply pretends everything is fine and dandy, while Janie uses Micah and flees to him when she needs emotional support and comfort, knowing he will put up with whatever she throws at him.

The book also deals with rape and high school rape culture – the victim is slut-shamed, does not seek or receive any kind of help or support, and is mired in feelings of rage, helplessness and depression. It’s not easy to read about this downward spiral that culminates in a tragic event.

Once upon a time, a little girl cried Wolf.
Down in the village, people heard, but no one went to help.
“The wolves around here are nice wolves,” said one of the villagers. “They wouldn’t hurt a soul.”
“She just wants attention,” said another. “There probably isn’t a wolf at all.”
“Maybe she was wearing a red hood,” offered another. “Red attracts wolves. Everyone knows that. If she was wearing red, she was just asking for it.”

Overall, this book is not a particularly happy read, but it’s a fairly interesting and compelling one, akin to watching a train crash and seeing who emerges from the wreckage. The book’s dedication is, “To the girls with matches in their fists and fire in their hearts,” and I think the author managed to perfectly encapsulate this sentiment in the character of Janie.

Rating: 6/10

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication. 

Hannah is a twenty-something born and bred Capetonian who adores reading and reviewing books, and encouraging critical discussion on all things pop culture. Currently a politics graduate student, she spent two years working in digital marketing before deciding she missed the student life. Loves QI, travel, dark chocolate, fantasy & YA books, pilates and sarcasm.