Title: The Fall of Lisa Bellow
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Author: Susan Perabo | Website
Publishing: March 14th 2017 by Simon & Schuster
Genre: Fiction; Mystery; Contemporary
Date Read: June 2017
When a middle school girl is abducted in broad daylight, a fellow student and witness to the crime copes with the tragedy in an unforgettable way.
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.
Before picking this book up I had seen the The Fall of Lisa Bellow floating around Goodreads for awhile–due to my interest in the thriller/mystery the title had come up. I was intrigued. The premise, particularly the focus on middle school girls, was one I anticipated to be fascinating. Most literary fiction with non adult characters focus at least on high schoolers, where as the 12-14 range seems a little ignored. I went on to pick up The Fall of Lisa Bellow at my school’s library at the end of last school year and brought it home with me for the summer (at my high school you are allowed to check out books from the school library for the summer).
Quickly into the novel Perabo asserts the fact that the protagonist Meredith is not your average 8th grade girl. She’s calmer, more mature almost, and is very much in tune with the happenings of her household. “Shallow” interests or not, Meredith consciously hides them from her family in her effort to be almost as unnoticeable as possible. At the start of the novel the Meredith’s entire family remains haunted my the injury of Meredith’s brother, Evan. Although this moment occurs before the start of the novel it remains critical to the story in that the ramifications of the event marked the ending of the seemingly happy bliss the family experienced before the injury and the events that followed.
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Fall of Lisa Bellow was that despite the focus on Meredith’s character Meredith’s mother was another character who Perabo chose to dial in on. Claire (the mother) is strangely unstable throughout the novel, heavily affected by the late-in-life dissolution of her childhood family. With the loss of childhood familiarity Claire has moments in which she reverts into a more childlike state–to the point in fact that there were scenes in which Meredith was the mature person in the room. Claire and Meredith’s relationship aside, Clarie’s relationship with her husband remained another point of particular interest for me. Meredith’s father (and Claire’s husband) remained a boring character throughout the entire novel. I can’t decide whether he was just boringly written or if he was boring because his character was simple (probably a combination of both). Nevertheless, the husband’s boringness certainly caused fascinating marital issues between Claire and her husband. In fact, their relationship was truly the most telling in terms of Claire’s instability and the lengths that she would un-regretfully go.
As facinating as the relationships were between Meredith and her family, I adored Meredith’s personal arch over the course of the novel. Very quickly after the opening Meredith witnesses the kidnapping of her popular classmate Lisa Bellow and remains paralyzied in fear for the majority of the event. In the aftermath of the kidnapping Meredith proves to be a particularly mature 13 year old girl in that she remains spookily calm and rational about the painful realities of Lisa’s assumed situation. In reality, she retreats to an internal fantasy that creates an awesome alternate timeline dynamic for the novel–Meredith’s mental processing of the trauma serves as a alternate situation for the reader to consider. Time and time again I was compelled with the maturity Perabo had Meredith show; one moment stood out particularly:
“Sometimes she felt like her mother would be happier if there were no actual people in her life, but rather just a series of tasks to complete” (Perabo 295).
The Fall of Lisa Bellow was one of the reads from this summer that sticks out in my mind. The narration was compelling, but more so were the fascinating lives of the characters Perabo examines. She dives into them so psychologically that I left the novel feeling more affected by the character’s decisions than I did by the plot. The novel most certainly focused on Meredith and her mother–but I found their unconventional mother daughter relationship to be utterly captivating and was not disappointed with their stronger depiction (knowing that other characters were focused on less). It should be noted that The Fall of Lisa Bellow is much more of a slow build, character driven psychological mystery than a traditional mystery thriller. I kinda dig it–but I’d keep that in mind when considering this novel.