Book Review: HOW WE FALL APART by Katie Zhao

Title in white on red with white paper rips
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: Maybe?


Book cover for HOW WE FALL APART: title in white on four ripped photos of faces stacked on each other with red background

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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


HOW WE FALL APART is a twisty academic thriller about the children of immigrants fighting to stay top of their classes as their former best friend dies – and they’re accused of the murder by an anonymous social media poster. It’s is a dark academia about the pressures on high-achieving children of immigrants, and the lengths they’re go to meet the expectations.

It’s a very addictive read, and short enough that you can just down it in one go without feeling too bad about how late it is. You are told there are secrets the lead and her 3 friends hold very early on (five of them) and you know they’ll come out. It helps create a tension and pacing as it’s clearly they’re come out across the book, so they’re are almost like little milestones to reach. And, by the laws of narrative tension, you know that each secret will get bigger (and affect the MC more) as you go through, which helps to keep the pacing up and you reading onwards.

I liked seeing both sides of these high-achieving kids, particularly the dead girl. She has this very polished mask that the MC can see behind, as well as hints of why she’s like that (beyond the extreme pressure for all of them to “be the best.”) It gave them all more depth, because at first they are pretty much perfect masks as we’re only in the MC’s heads.

I’ve seen a few people say “this sounds very similar to ONE OF US IS LYING” because of the “someone is dead and now there are secrets being revealed on social media.” Which I feel is a pretty common set up for a modern mystery, so I’d take the comparison with a pinch of salt.

However, the thing that bugged me a bit in both books (because it seemed unbelievable enough to pull me out early on in the book) is that the authorities and teachers just accept whatever is mentioned on the SM as fact. There didn’t seem to be any effort from these groups to find out who is posting because they clearly have a desire to see the characters humiliated and punished. If they really were just trying to help with the murder investigation, they’d do so plainly, as without releasing other unrelated to the case secrets that can ruin their lives.

Instead, the focus of the teachers (in this book, there isn’t much of a police investigation into it) is on these four. They seem to entirely be ignoring the fact that there’s a fifth person clearly involved and manipulating things. And no explanation was given for this fact (unlike, say, ACE OF SPADES, where the deliberate ignoring of the “Aces” was an important part of the story and the book’s examination of institutional racism.)

The “whodunnit” personally wasn’t all that satisfying, which made the ending fall a little flat. it seemed a little contrived that it could be that person – a lot of very extreme decisions had to be made back in the past (in an emotionally fraught time) and then none of those lies could be detected for a few years. I liked that it was about that secret, but I think someone else being the person behind it wouldn’t have stretched my believability so much.

Goodreads says there’s a sequel out next year, but the author’s 2022 book has just been announced, and it’s not a sequel. And the book deal only said two books, not that one was a sequel, so we’ll see.

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