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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2017-01-09
- Reviewer: Staff
A middle-class suburban family, comfortable in a life that has provided them with a lovely home and roomy van and a reliable second car, is the subject of the sharp and suspenseful novel from the author of The Broken Places. Parents Claire and Mark, who share a dental practice, have just begun to recover from a freak baseball-practice accident that has left their son, high school senior Evan, nearly blind in one eye when their daughter, 13-year-old Meredith, finds herself the victim of an armed robbery at a local deli. During the incident Merediths classmate Lisa is kidnapped, while Meredith is left lying on the floor. Traumatized, over the next few months she retreats gradually into her own imaginary world. The novels tension arises as much from Perabos insight into a complex and changing family dynamic as from the horror of an unusual but believable situation. Perabos female characters are particularly strong. Merediths struggles to make sense of the middle-school social hierarchy parallel Claires efforts to overcome her ambivalence about motherhood, and both are heightened by the attack and its aftermath. Survivors guilt takes on a unique form here, as the novel plays with the readers understanding of what is actually going on in Merediths world. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency (Mar.)
A dangerous obsession
Meredith Oliver is the girl who got left behind. A normal teenager semi-successfully navigating the shark-infested waters of middle school, she is in a sandwich shop when the most popular girl in school is kidnapped at gunpoint. “Get up,” the man says to Lisa Bellow, who dutifully follows him out the door. Meredith, frozen with fear, doesn’t even see the man’s face or car.
Meredith is sure Lisa doesn’t know her, even though they’ve gone to school together since elementary school and their lockers are next to each other. The most contact they’ve had in recent years was when Lisa directed Meredith—in true mean-girl style—to sit differently on her cafeteria chair so her butt didn’t hang over the edge.
The Oliver family has already seen its share of tragedy—older son Evan was a promising baseball player until an errant fly ball ended his dreams. Their parents, Claire and Mark, stagger under the weight of the kidnapping, simultaneously thrilled that Meredith was spared by the kidnapper and guilty that another girl is likely gone forever.
“No, she didn’t care one bit who Lisa Bellow was; the only important thing about Lisa Bellow, to Claire, was that she, not Meredith, was the girl who was taken. Certainly it would be better if she were found alive, better for Meredith, but all that really mattered was that Meredith was alive. Meredith was safe. Meredith, her baby, her baby girl, was down the hall.”
Once Lisa is taken, Meredith begins envisioning Lisa trapped in a dark, cold apartment with her abductor and abuser. The visions soon morph as Meredith grows desperate to reach Lisa before it’s too late. She retreats into her own mind, searching for clues that might lead her to Lisa.
The second novel from writer Susan Perabo (best known for her short stories) is wrenching, a dark yet beautifully told story of family, fear and grief. In the end, the question isn’t whether Meredith can save her classmate, but whether the Olivers can save Meredith.