Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Fall of Lisa Bellow: A Novel by Susan Perabo

Some books fall so clearly into the Young Adult category, and others are unquestionably adult novels. In her new novel The Fall of Lisa Bellow, Susan Perabo manages to reach both audiences with can best be called a family story--and a page turner at that. Her main character, Meredith Oliver, is an eighth grade girl whose older brother Evan lost the sight in one eye--and his baseball prospects--with one bad baseball pitch during batting practice. Their parents are doing their best to maintain normalcy, even insisting on keeping up their breakfast ritual of setting goals for the day.

Meredith deals with typical middle school angst, finding herself and her two best friends in the middle tier of popularity comparing themselves to the popular girls, with the eighth grade queen bee Lisa Bellow.

On the day of a math test, when Meredith stops by the local sandwich shop after school to reward herself with a root beer, Lisa Bellow is there too. A man enters wearing a face mask and a long hoodie to rob the store, and Meredith finds herself lying on the floor face to face with Lisa. The man's apparent split second decision to make Lisa leave with him sets Meredith's world on a tilt.

Perabo balances Meredith's story with the perspective of her mother. Claire Oliver and Meredith's father Mark are dentists in practice together. Over the course of their marriage, Claire has confessed both large and small errors of judgment that Mark took more seriously than she expected him to do. Both of them, however, are baffled by how to treat their daughter who wasn't kidnapped, as she eventually returns to school with the awkward distinction of being the last person to see Lisa alive.

Lisa Bellow's friends and her mother reach out to Meredith, and she moves into their inner circle, distancing herself from her two best friends, but she doesn't tell anyone that she imagines she can see what's going on in the apartment where Lisa is being kept.

The story itself is gripping, and Perabo using some particularly clever narrative twists to keep readers guessing about what is real and what is imagination. She presents a believable depiction of middle school and of family life in the midst of trauma--in the case of the Olivers, the double trauma of Evan's injury and Meredith's close call and the aftermath.

Perabo's characters are flawed, complex, but sympathetic. Readers can't help pitying Miss Bellow, Lisa's single mother, while still wanting Meredith to be safe from the pressure from outsiders as a result of the ordeal. Even with unanswered questions, Perabo leaves her audience--no matter what age--hoping for a family to be healed.


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