The Fall of Lisa Bellow
"If nothing else, The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a great character study of someone trying to survive growing up."
The author has created a story about PTSD and survivor guilt that gives a bit of insight into the agony of those who survive a traumatic event. Moreover, she describes how a family reacts to the situation and how it affects the dynamic.
Meredith Oliver is a typical middle schooler whose circle of friends and social life trump most everything else in her life. Sadly, she finds herself wishing she were more hip and less smart as she jealously watches her peers in the most popular group at school. Her locker is located beside Lisa Bellow’s, who is the star of their middle school. She enjoys unlimited popularity with girls and boys, and her locker is filled with photos of the most sought after boys in their class.
Despite seeing each other daily at their respective lockers, the pair never interacts. In fact, Meredith dreads each morning when the two girls see each other at their lockers. Lisa treats Meredith as if the two are total strangers. Then, one day at lunch Lisa makes a cruel joke about Meredith’s butt, one that remains etched forever in Meredith’s mind.
Later, that same day both girls coincidentally stop at a local sandwich shop on their way home from school. While Lisa orders sandwiches, a masked man armed with a gun storms in and robs the store. He takes the sole employee into a back room and injures him. On his way out, the robber grabs Lisa and takes her with him. Meredith is left lying on the floor too afraid to move. Eventually another customer arrives and discovers what has happened and notifies the police. But neither the counter man nor Meredith are able to provide much useful information regarding the robber or his vehicle.
Afterward, Meredith’s life changes dramatically. Her parents are dentists who have their own practice. Meredith’s father is easy going and hates confrontation or anything that breaks their daily routine. Meredith’s mother, Claire, is more of a clinger and controller. She constantly psychoanalyzes her daughter and creates problems that don’t exist. They try to conduct their practice as if nothing has changed, but the underlying tension affects both dentists and patients. Claire questions her parenting skills and begins to withdraw.
To exacerbate matters, the parents have been dealing with a major change in their life even before Meredith’s tragic event occurs. Their son, Evan, was an outstanding high school baseball player with hopes of eventually playing in the majors. Unfortunately, he suffers an accident on the field that blinds him in one eye. He turns within himself and slowly disconnects from the family.
As a way of dealing with her guilt over being the one left behind, Meredith begins to imagine the kidnapper also took her. The problem is that the reader doesn’t immediately fully understand this particular tactic employed by the author. It takes a while for this literary tool to flesh out, causing some ambiguity in the story. Once the reader realizes Meredith is imagining things the narrative begins to flow again.
The characters are an interesting lot. The dynamic between mother and daughter seems real, as does the relationship between the kidnapped teen, Lisa, and her mother, Colleen, who tries constantly to keep Lisa’s spirit alive by inviting her daughter’s friend to her home.
The book tries to demonstrate the power of a family’s love and how that love can overcome adversity. However, it doesn’t quite hit the mark as there are too many dream type sequences and not enough reality. We never hear much about the kidnapped girl’s actual predicament other than what Meredith fantasizes about. The police investigation is barely mentioned and not very detailed. The story could have been more powerful given its emotional and traumatic premise.
The strength of the story is the author’s development of Meredith’s character. She seems to hit all the right buttons in describing the difficulties young people face in middle school as they try to fit in and find their place in society. It’s a difficult time for most youngsters, and a time when cracks in the family begin to develop. If nothing else, The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a great character study of someone trying to survive growing up.