standalone reviews | katie zhao: how we fall apart, last gamer standing, the lies we tell

Hello friends! Here are the standalone reviews for Katie Zhao’s books, including How We Fall Apart which is supposedly in a series but I’ll just leave it here for now.

Navigate through this post with the titles below:
๐Ÿ–‹๏ธ How We Fall Apart | ๐ŸŽฎ Last Gamer Standing | ๐Ÿ“ The Lies We Tell

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How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao


Series: How We Fall Apart #1
Published August 17th 2021 by Bloomsbury YA
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Dark Academia, Contemporary, Mystery
Representation: Asian-American cast (Chinese MC, Korean SC, Indian SC, Chinese SC)

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app.

They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow The Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford, like Nancy’s full scholarship. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too.

Students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead. 


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How We Fall Apart had elements of Pretty Little Liars and One of Us is Lying. While it was super fun trying to decipher who “The Proctor” is, I couldn’t really get into it since this aspect is already so commonly used in mystery novels that include an anonymous person taunting the persons involved.

What separates How We Fall Apart from the other books was the experiences of the characters and the insane academic expectations in Asian culture, especially for immigrant students who have the added pressure of achieving the best results and attend a top university. Making it worse is when parents were willing to sacrifice everything and carry every sort of burden so that their children can strive for a better future. How does one not let that affect them?

Personally, though I had pressure during my education years, it wasn’t as oppressive and overwhelming as Nancy, Krystal, Akil, and Alexander’s in this book. Nancy, as an Asian immigrant and a scholarship student at Sinclair Prep, needs to do well. No, not well. She needs to be at the top, the best. Nothing less is expected of her. What is she willing to do to keep herself there? You will find out.

Jamie Ruan was found dead and her ex-friends are now suspects. Not only that, someone named “The Proctor” is threatening to loosen their lips and spill all the dirty little secrets Nancy, Krystal, Akil, and Alexander are hiding.

Not one to speak poorly of the dead but Jamie wasn’t a great friend. Through the flashbacks, Jamie treated Nancy as someone below her since Jamie’s the daughter of a rich man while Nancy’s mom is their housekeeper. Because of this, and the school environment, Nancy has an inferiority complex. She doesn’t feel like she fits in and often downplays her successes. At the same time, her desire to do well is intricately connected to her father’s abandonment and her single mother’s sacrifices.

By the end, there were still some questions that needed to be answered which, I predict, will be the main plot of book two. I’m actually quite afraid for Nancy. Playing with fire might just burn her.

Overall, I loved the exploration of Asian-American experiences in the education system, the suffocating truth behind the fight for the best outcome, and the exhausting feeling that comes after. My only qualm is that “the anonymous person threatening to spill the beans” does feel repetitive and typical. Regardless, I look forward to the second book of the How We Fall Apart duology.

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Navigate through this post with the titles below:
๐Ÿ–‹๏ธ How We Fall Apart | ๐ŸŽฎ Last Gamer Standing | ๐Ÿ“ The Lies We Tell

๐ŸŽฎ๐ŸŽฎ๐ŸŽฎ

Last Gamer Standing by Katie Zhao


Standalone
Published September 21st 2021 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Age Range: Middle Grade
Genre: Science Fiction
Representation: Chinese-American MC, Half-Japanese SC

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Reyna Cheng is the up-and-coming junior amateur Dayhold gamer, competing in a VR battle royale against AI monsters and human players alike. But despite Reyna’s rising popularity and skills, no one know who she is. Gaming is still a boy’s club and to protect herself against trolls, she games as the mysterious TheRuiNar.

When Reyna qualifies for the Dayhold Junior Tournament sponsored by her favorite team, she knows she’s got what it takes to win the championship title and the $10,000 prize.

But when she’s blackmailed and threatened to be doxed, having her personal identity revealed, by an anonymous troll, Reyna will have to deal with a toxic gaming community, family complications, and the increasing pressure to win as the tournament gets underway.


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trigger and content warnings:
  • threats of doxxing, loved ones with cancer, sexism, misogyny

Young Reyna Cheng is an active player in the VR battle royale game inspired by different Asian cultures, although it was created by a white dude. With the nature of a battle royale competition, the contestants were transported to various landscapes as they progressed to the final stages. I did wish for further expansion of the world. What I had was pretty interesting too.

Behind TheRuiNar is 12-year-old Reyna Cheng. Since the gaming industry is primarily dominated by male players, Reyna is afraid of using her real identity. Not wanting to entertain trolls on the Internet who thinks that girls don’t belong in the gaming community, Reyna intelligently didn’t use her real identity. However, as she passed each stage in the Dayhold Junior Tournament, Reyna started to receive threats from an anonymous account. If she doesnโ€™t back down from the competition, Reyna will be doxxed and her identity revealed to everyone. 

I read Last Gamer Standing quickly. Katie Zhao developed the VR gaming world well while always addressing the misogyny and sexism that females face in the industry. On top of that, Reynaโ€™s internal struggle between winning the top prize for her motherโ€™s treatment fund or spending time with her mother was heart-wrenching. I liked that family is an important part of Reyna and the story as well. 

Overall, nothing super mind-blowing but it touched on the toxicity that females experience while gaming which I believe inspired this whole book for the author.

๐Ÿ–‹๏ธ๐Ÿ–‹๏ธ๐Ÿ–‹๏ธ

Navigate through this post with the titles below:
๐Ÿ–‹๏ธ How We Fall Apart | ๐ŸŽฎ Last Gamer Standing | ๐Ÿ“ The Lies We Tell

๐Ÿ“๐Ÿ“๐Ÿ“

The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao


Standalone
Published November 15th 2022 by Bloomsbury YA
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Representation: Asian-American cast

Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Anna Xu moving out of her parent’s home and into the dorms across town as she starts freshman year at the local, prestigious Brookings University. But her parents and their struggling Chinese bakery, Sweetea, aren’t far from campus or from mind, either.

At Brookings, Anna wants to keep up her stellar academic performance and to investigate the unsolved campus murder of her childhood babysitter. While there she also finds a familiar faceโ€“her middle-school rival, Chris Lu. The Lus also happen to be the Xu family’s business rivals since they opened Sunny’s, a trendy new bakery on Sweetea’s block. Chris is cute but still someone to be wary ofโ€“until a vandal hits Sunny’s and Anna matches the racist tag with a clue from her investigation.

Anna grew up in this town, but more and more she feels like maybe she isn’t fully at home hereโ€“or maybe it’s that there are people here who think she doesn’t belong. When a very specific threat is made to Anna, she seeks out help from the only person she can. Anna and Chris team up to find out who is stalking her and take on a dangerous search into the hate crimes happening around campus. Can they root out the ugly history and take on the current threat?


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Brookings University is where Anna Xu will be spending her next few years. The same school her babysitter, Melissa Hong, attended before she was murdered in the arboretum. The killer is still at large and the mystery is still unsolved, Anna wants to know what happened then. In the meantime, Anna reunites with her childhood rival, Chris Lu. The rivalry was inherited from their fathers who were competitors at the university. When the Lus opened up a bakery near the Xus, the feuding reignited. On campus, the hate crimes against Asians became more prevalent and brazen, and Brookings started to feel less and less safe. 

As a fellow true crime lover, the setting and unsolved mystery element spoke to me. However, I found the mystery part pretty predictable and straightforward. While thereโ€™s a secret society within this story, there wasnโ€™t much exploration of that. But the eerie moments do pop up once in a while to drive the scary feeling that Anna is experiencing. In the context of being anonymous and making an online friend, it was pretty chill until the situation turned creepy. Having a hard time making friends in university, the Friend Me app was a godsend to Anna. Little did Anna expect things to turn awry quickly. The Lies We Tell warned of the dangers of the digital connections that are created behind anonymity. 

Overall, I thought it was okay. The parent-child relationship between Anna and her parents was pretty typical when it comes to the stories of Asian immigrants. The desire for their kids to do well and put education above anything else. However, thereโ€™s an immense love that is just hidden beneath the surface. I read The Lies We Tell quickly. While itโ€™s not a favorite, Katie Zhao explored the fetishization of Asians, racism, and hate crimes against people of color. I think more could be done with the execution. Otherwise, I had a great time!

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