Review: How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

Hi readers!

I hope you all are doing well! August is winding down, and students are preparing to go back to school. While this is my first August/fall that I don’t have to go to school (😱), reading How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao caused me to relive my high school days. HWFA is intense suspense as much as it is sharp criticism of the competition in schools, a fire that is fanned particularly in the Asian American community.


How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao cover: four faces with a red background divided by ripped paper.

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.

Author: Katie Zhao

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Release Date: August 17, 2021

Genre: Dark Academia

Content warnings: abuse, violence, dieting, verbal abuse, Racism, Parental neglect, Teacher-student relationship, Suicide, Suicidal ideation, Self harm, Panic attack, Recreational drug use, Death of a friend, Murder, Blackmail, Fire, mental illness

*Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Wowzers. I ended up finishing this book in one sitting, barely moving from my chair. Each chapter pulled me into the next, until I was at the last page.  

I went to a school that was considered a “private public school.” There was definitely money, influence, stupidity, and too much emphasis on grades encompassing your worth and being perfect on paper. I was a freshman in high school eight years ago (holy shiz 😬), but there are things that I remember like it was yesterday. How We Fall Apart really captured the academic rigor and expectations (whether they are held internally or externally) that I experienced but also cut from my memory.

The intense competition Katie focuses this story on is something you don’t always notice until you’re separated from that situation, at least for me. In the moment, getting an “A” on the next assignment, getting through the next essay with your expectations, the next exam is all you can think about. Like Nancy and Jamie in HWFA, I was (and am) a perfectionist and academically ambitious. Similarly with the world of Sinclair Prep, my desire to do the best that I can—and be at the top of my class—was exacerbated by everyone else around my chasing after the same thing.

Essentially, I deeply felt what Katie explored in HWFA.

Back to the book itself! A good way to describe this story is that it is a pressure cooker.

As I mentioned before HWFA completely absorbed me. While it is a thriller because of the murder of Jamie Ruan and the hunt to find the murderer, this book is so much more.

  • It is a critical commentary on the toxicity of American academics and the pressure to be more than the best at all times (especially coming from Asian families).
  • It’s about schools and protecting their images at the expense of their actual human students.
  • It’s about money flowing and the influence that comes along with it, even more so for men.
  • HWFA is also about mental health and the stigma of mental illness, particularly in Asian (American) communities.

Nancy Luo, the narrator, has an accessible voice that makes her the perfect person to bring people into the story. While she may have an “accessible” voice, she is also an unreliable narrator and the person who competed most with Jamie, even being her closest “friend.” So it’s fascinating getting inside of Nancy’s head.

There seemed to be a lot of emphasis on how Nancy is not rich, especially compared to Jamie. Maybe once I picked up on this juxtaposition, I noticed it more when it was brought up again. However, this socio-economic difference between Nancy and Jamie does heavily frame who the former is and how that has impacted her education.

I appreciated the punchy ends to the chapters, but sometimes the short sentences back-to-back landed in a rhythm that became almost overused. However, I did really like the Tip Tap posts at the beginning of each chapter, since they framed the events nicely. Plus, they were fun to read.

Also, I would suggest listening to the Vincenzo (K-drama) soundtrack while reading, especially towards the end. There were moments that reminded me of the vibes of this show, so, of course, my brain went ~Vincenzo vibes~

Lastly, How We Fall Apart is such a great title!! It just settles over the tongue: How We Fall Apart. And what a tagline, “Study hard. Betray harder.” It’s funny but also not because phew how does anyone even find friends in that kind of environments?? 😪

Since there are so many good quotes in How We Fall Apart (I basically dog-eared every other page), here are some that stuck with me:

A Few Quotes

The first line!!

“My mother once told me I had to get into a top university, or die trying.”

“Hadn’t we all? Done awful things to stay at the top. Horrible, twisted misdeeds, for the chance to have everything, everything this school had promised us.”

📋Conclusion: Recommend! HOW WE FALL APART had me racing to read the last page in one sitting! If you’re looking for a fast-paced story with a necessary investigation of academic pressure, particularly within the Asian American community, this is the one for you!!

(and find my HWFA playlist here to get in the dark academia mood 👀)


Blackwell’s | Bloomsbury | Bookshop | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Apple Books


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What August/September releases are you looking forward to?

Until next time,

3 thoughts on “Review: How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

  1. This was an amazing review!! Very well explained. I can relate when you talk about the expectations that are put on one’s back when you’re in high school, as that’s a pressure I had from primary school and until I finished college. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while now but I wasn’t sure of what I was going to find in it, and now that I’ve read your input on it I’ll definitely give it a shot. Nancy sounds like a very intriguing character!


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