Book Review: The Fall of Lisa Bellow

The Fall of Lisa Bellow
By: Susan Perabo
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Release date: March 14, 2017
Genre: contemporary adult fiction
352 pages
Source: Galley kindly provided by publisher

You've likely heard the saying, "but for the grace of God go I." This is that saying, in book form. It's story of the girl, the family, who is spared. It's the story of how even that girl, that family, isn't entirely spared.

Just putting it on the table: this book isn't about Lisa Bellow, it's about her absence. Lisa is the girl who is abducted in broad daylight from a sandwich shop. The central character is, instead, Meredith, the girl who is there, but is left behind. Lisa and Meredith happen to be in the store at the same time; they are not friends. In the months that follow, however, Meredith spends more time thinking about Lisa than doing just about anything else.

Perabo writes a pretty good depiction of what trauma can do to an adolescent. Meredith literally thought she was going to be killed that day, and instead, she has to deal with the conflicting feelings of relief that she was spared, sadness that Lisa wasn't, remorse that she didn't do something more to help, and dislike for how Lisa has treated her for years. She's stuck feeling guilty about hating the girl who is missing, presumably victimized, and possibly dead. Meredith's interactions with her friends, her family, and especially Lisa's mother are increasingly strange. As she distances herself from those for whom she cares the most, she walks right into situations that pose both physical and emotional danger, seeming to seek justice: for something terrible to happen to her, too.

The sections written from Meredith's mother's viewpoint were particularly difficult for me to read personally; I have a 13-year-old daughter. I was impressed by how well Perabo captured the struggle to balance the need to protect with the necessity of allowing independence and growth. This is the central struggle for all parents of teens, I am sure, but having the child match my own in both age and gender cut pretty deep more than once.

Readers who crave clear resolution might have a hard time with this book. I can appreciate the way the book wrapped up, though, knowing that it's realistic. Tragedies often don't get wrapped up in neat bows in real life. Trauma doesn't get "fixed", it is a constant process of recovery. It left me with a sense of, "Oh good, it's not just me." I will be recommending this to friends who enjoy the genre- this is one of the better ones I have seen in a while.

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.