THIS IS WHERE THE WORLD ENDS by Amy Zhang 🌎 🌍 🌏 | A Guide to What a Friendship Should NOT Be 😕
Hellooooo everyone! Here is the book chat for Amy Zhang’s This is Where the World Ends, as promised in the newsletter 😊
I bought this book at a Kinokuniya Bookstore in Thailand along with two others because of several, vital reasons:
1) I was in a shopping mall and was SO SICK OF MALLS at that point during my Thailand trip because I absolutely despise shopping. Having clothing shops be the only thing dominating my vision was actually starting to make my vision blurry. As the hours ticked by, though, a beautiful oasis that looks like a bookstore suddenly pops up in the middle of the labyrinth of clothing stores. I started to get hopeful but realized it just could be something else…
2) It was, indeed, a bookstore. I felt ready to faint at that moment from exhaustion so obviously I went into the one thing that was of interest to me in the mall, just so I could refuel my energy after being in the soul-sucking place that is a shopping mall all day.
3) I was so happy to find out that the bookstore had a huge English books section! I ended up grabbing a bunch off the shelves and taking pictures of them to add to my list of books to read later, but instead of putting them all back (as I had intended to) I ended buying three books — This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang, Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George, and the YA anthology Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories. I usually don’t tend to lean towards romance-centered books for reading, but I totally needed that contemporary book — it was such a nice book to read while traveling as a sleep-deprived person. 😴
Anyways, that’s how I ended up with this book! 😊 I actually felt inclined to buy This is Where the World Ends because of the Asian last name of the author, and because of the author bio in the back that said “Amy Zhang was born in China, grew up in Wisconsin, and currently lives in New York State.” I’m constantly on the lookout for books that contain any cultures, settings, or characters that I can relate to in terms of my connections to Hong Kong and the Cantonese Chinese culture (a round of applause for Stacey Lee’s Outrun the Moon for this — honestly, that book was SO AMAZING), buuuuut it didn’t take me long to realize that this novel wasn’t going to fulfill any of those categories. 🙂
After reading the first few chapters, I was intrigued — it felt a little bit like Stephanie Kuehn’s Charm & Strange in its confusing start and dual perspective, only this novel was a lot less elegant in its writing and had quite the unsatisfying and abrupt ending. Basically, I enjoyed the book when I started it, but didn’t really end up liking it when I finished.
The beginning didn’t completely captivate me, but it did compel me to continue reading in order to find out what in the world was going on. The book opens up with the first chapter being in the point of view of Micah, who tells the story of what happened “after.” After what? You won’t know at first — and that’s why I kept reading. You’ll quickly gather that Micah is in a hospital, something bad happened, and he lost his memory of that particular event. As flashbacks continue coming to Micah and Janie reveals her side of the story from the time of “before” in the second POV, the story began to piece itself together for me and I was actually getting excited for the big reveal —
— until the reveal happened.
I just didn’t expect to be left so unsatisfied and disappointed with the full story when I realized what it was, and the way the novel ended was even more ridiculous. The entire novel wasn’t a huge disappointment; after all, there were some unique and alluring aspects of the story that made me feel inclined to continue reading. However, combined with the aspects of the book that I didn’t enjoy and can’t ignore are present in the novel makes This is Where the World Ends a difficult book for me to comprehend my thoughts and opinions for.
In the end, though, I suppose that’s the main point of book chats — to write them in hope of understanding both the book more, as well as how it relates to me and my opinions. I think this might be the first book chat I’ve written on this blog about a book I didn’t entirely love, so I’m going to focus more on organizing my thoughts with the intention of explaining why I didn’t enjoy certain parts of this novel. I’m keeping this review spoiler-free until the end (it’ll be clear when the spoilery section starts so you won’t accidentally spoil yourself if you want to read the book 😊👍) so read on and enjoy! 😋
🌎 The Non-Spoilery Section! 🌍
The Absolutely Messed-Up Relationship Between Janie and Micah
This entire novels centers around the relationship between two characters: Micah and Janie, a pair of supposed best friends. At least, they say they’re best friends and that they love each other and would do anything for each other, but it quickly became clear to me that Micah and Janie’s relationship models what a real, healthy, happy friendship should never be.
It was really strange for me to shift from seeing their friendship through Micah and Janie’s eyes (which was that it was perfect and unending and totally necessary for their life to be complete) to seeing it through my own.
It’s easy to sympathize or even empathize with characters so much that you end up justifying some of their not-so-good decisions or even ignoring them for the sake of getting through the book, but the amount of things that I would never approve of in my actual life that Micah and Janie did to each other eventually tallied to such a large amount that I had to step away from the characters’ mindset and form my own opinion on their friendship: It’s a rather unhealthy one that I can’t relate nor would ever want to have.
In the beginning of the novel, when Janie describes Micah and her friendship with them, it seems very innocent. She calls Micah the “boy who is both my impulse control and my very best ideas” (Zhang 18), while also painting him in a very hero-like/princely light by saying he was “a boy who never huffed and never puffed” (Zhang 9). It’s very clear in the chapters depicting Janie’s journal entries that Janie loves fairy tales. In her first journal entry of the novel, she categorizes her parents and teachers (the only prominent adult figures in her life) as those who “huffed and puffed” too much at her creativity and freedom. Since Micah never tried to limit either of those things, he appears to be a wonderful friend — at first.
Janie’s poetic descriptions of Micah paints him in a very idealized and romantic light — their friendship is “real and always and forever” (Zhang 18). That image quickly shatters, however, and it’s going to be easier for me to explain if I separately evaluate Janie and Micah’s character.
Character Evaluation: Janie
We’re very good about our interaction now, in school. Seventh grade was the hardest, when…. we needed each other more than anything but couldn’t even talk because I thought I was too cool. (Zhang 47)
When I read the quote above, I knew something was wrong with Janie and Micah’s friendship — yet I didn’t let that growing opinion of mine deter me from trying to understand the strange dynamics of their friendship. I kept reading and reading in hopes of finding an explanation for how their friendship exactly functioned, but in the end, I never found one. After finishing the novel, I was left feeling confused, concerned, and slightly disgusted with Janie and Micah’s attitude towards each other.
Janie is established as someone very popular at school, but I never understood why people at her school seemed to adore her so much. In order to keep up her reputation as a “cool” person, Janie ignores Micah at school and only talks with him during private meet ups outside of school hours. Again, this just solidifies how brittle and weak the base that their friendship lies upon is — with foundational rules this ridiculous and unhealthy, everything that they promise each other seems ready to fall apart at any moment.
This is especially clear in Janie’s narration. One of the main things that come in between Janie and Micah is Ander, a boy Janie has had a crush on since middle school (they’re all high school seniors now). Janie says “Oh, Micah. I’ll never let the tide take us” (Zhang 48) in one moment, but after Ander smiles at her she changes her mind — and the frustrating thing about this is that Janie is aware of how ambivalent she is.
No matter how hard I tried to justify Janie’s manipulative and controlling attitude towards her friendship with Micah, I couldn’t do it by the end of the story. There was so little tying these two characters together that it was almost pitiful seeing them say they love each other and that their friendship is forever when I’m just reading this novel like 😐
Another confusing thing for me to read about was Janie’s claim that the reason why she hated her new house was because she believed it was the sole cause of the divide growing between her and Micah. Janie doesn’t understand why Micah seems to be breaking away from her, but honestly… were they ever close at all? For me, the answer is no. But of course, to understand Janie and Micah’s whole relationship, we have to look at Micah, too.
Character Evaluation: Micah
I found that the most information I got of Micah was actually not from his chapters — it was from Janie’s descriptions of Micah in her POV chapters, which establishes how Micah isn’t really a well-developed character. Janie describes him as painfully shy and unconfident, which I found to contradict his personality during his nights drinking and attending parties.
In the end, it’s clear that Micah is a follower:
I took the class because Janie was taking it. (Zhang 205)
Much of his life is dictated by Janie, and while it’s true that friends can help you move in the right direction, both Micah and Janie are not well-developed people in the story. That fact translates to the empty feeling I get when I remember Micah’s and Janie’s character. I feel like Micah and Janie are just two shells of something that’s suppose to represent two complex people and a complex relationship, but I just found them to be shallow and unrealistic characters that I would never look up to for inspiration or to model.
I think it shows in my short analysis of their characters that there isn’t much to talk about. Micah and Janie’s relationship may seem complex and intriguing at first, but once the novel ended and I walked away from the story, I didn’t find anything worthwhile to take away from the story other than what not to do in a friendship. Reading about Micah and Janie’s failing friendship didn’t positively enlighten me in any way about life — and the ending of the novel only solidifies that for me.
A Intriguing Writing Style
However, now that I’ve explained in a non-spoilery way why I didn’t enjoy the novel as a whole, I’m going to talk about one thing I did appreciate: Amy Zhang’s writing style, especially for Janie’s POV chapters!
A big, messy, bleeding-like-a-volcano heart. If you pulled it out of my chest, it would be covered in escaped butterflies and black holes and weeds that look like flowers. (Zhang 126)
The writing really was lovely and lyrical, but I will say that this kind of writing made Janie sound a little bit insane. It’s clear that Janie is a dreamer and sees the world in a very creative way, but she’s interesting in the sense that she seems to constantly cross the line between appearing creative and appearing crazy. Overall, Zhang’s writing style was the main aspect of this novel I did enjoy, though there is some ineloquent swearing. Did the swearing enhance this novel as it did for J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye? I don’t know… but if I had to choose, I would say no. Meh.
Now let’s get on with the…
🌎 The Spoilery Section! 🌍
Janie’s Deceptively Sweet Character
Alright, there’s only a few last things I’d like to say about Janie’s character. As I’ve mentioned previously, Janie is the dominant character in this novel, and though I now see many flaws in her character, it wasn’t easy for me to come to this decision and say, hey, I don’t really like Janie. The way Zhang sets up this novel is really brilliant in drawing you into the story so that you immediately think you’re on Micah and Janie’s side — you get them, and you know they’re flawed, but that’s okay. They’re still human and you just totally understand them… until you realize you don’t.
Janie believes that it’s okay to mentally Photoshop the bad moments out of her life, and I do think that’s a reasonable reaction for someone to do in the recent time after a bad or embarrassing moment to give themselves room to calm down. However, if someone takes it to the extreme level that Janie does, I think that’s a sign of insecurity and one’s lack of knowledge on how they should deal with problems in life. Dealing with a problem now will help you become better at solving problems that pop up inevitably in the future.
Instead, Janie decides that
You’re allowed to crop things like the way Ander held me too tightly, how he held my wrist instead of my hands, how it never occurred to him that I didn’t want our first kiss to be like that. (Zhang 97)
When I first read this, I felt sympathy for Janie, but didn’t dismiss her as shallow. After all, there were plenty of pages left in the story for Janie to grow and learn and how about not drown before solving her problems?
Maybe I wanted to like this story too much, and hung on this hope for too long as I waited for something, anything, in the story to redeem Janie’s character. I just have nothing else to say about Janie because there is nothing else to her lyrical narration, fairy tale journal entries, and rocks with Virginia Woolfe quotes on them that amount to any moment in the story where I felt respect for her. Certainly sympathy and understanding and that feeling of “Oh, if only she hadn’t done that…”, but definitely not respect or love for her character.
The Horrendous Ending
Aaaaaand lastly, let’s talk about the thing that ruined this novel for me: the horrendous ending. I just…
Once Micah realizes that Janie is dead and the reason for it, he decides to 1) drink alcohol and 2) say that “it doesn’t matter what the hell Janie Vivian was or wasn’t because she’s dead” (Zhang 233) — which is a statement I completely disagree with. I refuse to believe that if Janie and Micah were truly best friends, Micah would brush Janie away like that. Real friends — and real relationships — make an impact no matter how far that other person is away from you, both in distance (for long-distance relationships) or death. For Micah to say the equivalent of, oh, Janie doesn’t matter to me, makes it seem like he and Janie were never that close at all.
Hmmmm… it seems like I’m verifying my point here… 🤔
In addition, there’s also Dewey, who doesn’t appear that much in the story but is still a significant secondary character. Dewey seems to be the only one who knows how messed up Janie and Micah’s relationship is and also seems to be the only one who notices or cares. Dewey clearly cares about Micah because he stays with Micah at the hospital. Through Janie’s jabs in the past, she hints that Dewey possibly likes Micah — but in the end, this doesn’t really matter because it’s never resolved, which is the biggest theme with this book. It’s either unresolved threads or an unsatisfying or horrifying ending, like Janie’s suicide.
Janie’s suicide was dramatic and kind of terrifying to read about. The thoughts that churned in her mind before she drowned was haunting but so intertwined with her recent experiences. After the last chapter of Janie’s POV ended, I was left with this faint feeling of denial, the feeling that it was impossible this had to be Janie’s ending after all she had gone through.
We don’t catch moments in the passing. We don’t catch them at all. We just reach and scramble and wish for fairy godmothers and Prince Charmings. It’s too bad none of it is real. It really is too bad. (Zhang 279)
I can’t deny that Janie’s last thoughts are real to her. She believed in fairy tales and happily ever afters at the beginning of the novel, but she clearly never got one. I can easily believe this and agree with Janie, but I refuse to do so because despite all the horrendous things present in this world, there are still so many kind and wonderful people and moments that I know exist. It would be awful if I don’t remember the kind smiles I’ve received from strangers, the love I have from family and friends, and the passions and dreams I have that make me excited to wake up every morning and live my day the best I can.
It’s because I think like this that I can feel bad for Janie, but not look up to her for inspiration or accept her claims that “none of it is real.” I do believe anyone can make their dreams real if they want and work hard enough. We are the main characters in our own life, and though there are many factors out of our control in our lives, one thing we always have the most control over is how we write our own story and how we act as the main character of our own life.
I was already disappointed by Janie’s end, but the actual ending of the novel just made me feel even more unsatisfied:
I reach into my pocket for Janie’s rock, and stare at it. Maybe I’ll give it to Piper. I no longer need the reminded. There is nothing left to remember.
I am not afraid. (Zhang 287)
Really, Micah? There is nothing left to remember? This statement reminds me of Janie’s belief that she can Photoshop the bad moments out of her life — in a similar way, Micah believes that he can cut Janie’s influence out of his life as he wills it, but that’s not how it really works in reality. He has depended on Janie since he’s known her, and molded his own life and character around Janie’s desires and wishes. His justification was that since Janie and his friendship was falling apart anyways, “it should [have] all just end[ed]” (Zhang 285). Again, like Janie, he fails to address and solve the problem in his life, and instead chooses to ignore it.
It’s important for me to write detailed book chats on books — not just short reviews — because I find that I usually can find something wonderful I’ve taken or learned from a novel through writing these book chats. However, This Is Where the World Ends did not end up providing me with anything I could positively apply to my life, other than gratefulness, I suppose, that I’ve never encountered a relationship as unhealthy and deceptive as Micah and Janie’s.
Thanks for reading my first critical/negative review of a book on this blog! 😋 I really enjoyed the entire process of writing this review, and if you have any comments about my opinions/review/analysis in this book chat, then please comment below — I would love to hear your thoughts!
Hope you enjoyed this post, and cya next time!