This Is Where the World Ends

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Dark, compelling tale of obsessive friendship, rape, death.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Janie is inspired by the writings and life of Virginia Woolf; she also loves classical music and teaches Micah about it.

Positive Messages

Friendship and loyalty are strong themes, but the story offers vivid, cautionary examples of what can go wrong and how strong bonds can turn deadly.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although both of them are frequently overwrought and confused and often see the world through distorted lenses, Micah and Janie are relatably alienated small-town teens who value their long friendship. But they are complex, and their "soul mate" relationship has its darker aspects, as Janie ignores Micah in public (because she's a cool kid and he's not), makes cruel comments, patronizes him, and manipulates him while going through a series of boyfriends. He, in turn, veers between extreme self-sacrifice (as a child, he gave blood to Janie even though he thought it would kill him) and anger at the way she treats him. A classmate turns out to be not merely a "douche bag" but a rapist. Micah's friend Dewey tries to look out for him, especially since Micah's memory is a little wonky. With the exception of a teacher who offers support to a student who's hurting, the adults here are sometimes well-meaning but generally useless. Janie's parents often leave her on her own because their marriage is rocky and they think it's important to travel together when one of them has a business trip.

Violence

A rape is followed by a suicide. A character torches a house. In the past, a character's mom died in a car crash. Characters punch each other and get into physical fights.

Sex

A character mentions having sex in a tent and says it's not fun. Teens kiss a lot in the story -- sometimes passionately, sometimes drunkenly, sometimes with cruel calculation, sometimes with members of their own gender. A character taunts Micah that his gay male friend only sticks around because he's in love with Micah. An adult character is wracked with guilt because his wife died in a car crash while he was having sex with his girlfriend. Janie reveres Virginia Woolf, whose books Janie's mother tried to have banned from the school library for fear they'd turn Janie into a lesbian. Drawing penises on school desks is a favorite pastime of some of the characters.

Language

Frequent "f--k," "s--t," "douche bag," "a--hole," "dick," and the like.

Consumerism

Micah and Dewey spend a lot of time playing games on Xbox. Janie's mother appears obsessed with money and status. Brand names include Chobani yogurt, Ralph Lauren sweaters, iPad.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Booze is everywhere in this story, and it rarely leads anywhere good. Teens drinking and getting drunk is a regular occurrence in small-town Waldo, Iowa, and there are frequent scenes depicting this. A night of alcohol-drenched partying includes a date rape. A teen character is a heavy cigarette-smoker.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that This Is Where the World Ends, author Amy Zhang's second novel (the first, Falling Into Place, dealt with teen suicide), is a dark, often compelling psychological study of relationships -- and what happens when an "atom" of two people who love each other "more than anything" crashes against a world of parents, school cliques, and crushingly boring small-town life. There's a lot of questionable behavior and strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t"), and high school kids -- the two central characters turn 18 during the story -- smoke cigarettes and get drunk often. One drunken party includes date rape and suicide. A character torches a house. The action takes place very much inside the heads of the two main characters: One may not be sane, and the other is suffering from post-traumatic memory loss. There's a lot of suspense as the story unfolds; readers who enjoy complex explorations of what makes people tick will find a lot to think about, but there's not much light among the shadows.

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What's the story?

Eighteen-year-old Micah is in the hospital. There's a lot he doesn't remember, but he can tell something pretty bad has happened, especially since no one will give him a straight answer when he wants to know where his brilliant-but-troubled best friend, Janie, is. Also, the police keep wanting to talk to him about the fire that burned Janie's house down around the time she vanished. As the story unfolds and he struggles to piece together what's really going on, his often-confused narrative voice alternates with that of Janie, who may be a bit less in control than she thinks she is.

Is it any good?

A small-town teen with memory loss struggles to learn where his best friend is, why she left him, and why the police want to talk to him about her torched house in this dark, compelling page-turner. Author Amy Zhang, switching between the narrative voices of the two characters, weaves a complex, sometimes deceptive story -- some of which the reader may figure out before protagonist/narrator Micah does, and some of which is open to different interpretations -- as she reveals two complicated, relatable, not always likable characters who form their own world, and looks at what happens to them in THIS IS WHERE THE WORLD ENDS:

"The point was each other. They knew each other in their atoms, and the point was that they were together. They never talked about it, but they both knew what they feared. More than anything, they feared that they wouldn't have each other someday.

"And without each other, there wouldn't be much of a point at all, would there?"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how to have strong -- and healthy -- friendships. Do you know anyone who's had the kind of relationship issues the main characters have? How did it affect their lives? What did they do about it?

  • Why do you think boring small towns are such a popular setting for stories about teen angst and out-of-control events? What other examples can you think of? What's the appeal?

  • What do you think of the violence in This Is Where the World Ends? Does it seem realistic?

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