Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

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Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A friendship love story and an examination of the fall-out from abuse. Deeply involving story where what isn't said is as important as what is. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Macmillan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 150980353X

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Caddy and Rosie have been best friends for years and even going to different schools hasn't parted them. And this is the summer that Rosie intends to be different. She'll get a boyfriend, finally. Perhaps even lose her virginity. And experience a Significant Life Event. But the best laid plans and all that...

... because everything changes when Suzanne appears on the scene and Caddy's twosome becomes a threesome. Suzanne is pretty, confident, funny, cool. And a little bit naughty. And all of a sudden, Caddy can see the attraction of a little bit of trouble. But Suzanne has a troubled past that intrudes on the present. Caddy's Significant Life Event will turn out to be something very different than the one she envisaged.

Awww. I truly loved this story. At its centre is the relationship between narrator Caddy and her two friends - the longstanding best friend Rosie and the newcomer Suzanne. Suzanne's sudden entry into the group awakens all Caddy's insecurities. Is she entertaining enough? Will Rosie prefer the charismatic Suzanne to the boring Caddy? But Caddy's initial jealousy soon turns into a kind of crush on the new and interesting and friend. And from there, a powerful protective urge surges once Suzanne's unhappy backstory is revealed. Suzanne goes from rebel to depressive as her own demons haunt her. And behind this, the clear-sighted Rosie tries to offer perspective but is vulnerable herself. We all are, you see. And the book relays a horrible truth: abuse isn't over the moment you leave the abusive situation. And happy endings aren't easy, let alone easy to come by. Beautiful Broken Things is all so real and so accurate and so relatable.

This is such a powerful and relatable story of teen female friendship and such a pitch perfect examination of mental health issues and the complex family dynamics that surround abuse, it seems churlish to criticise, especially when your criticisms are little more than nitpicks. But y'know - this is a review, not a panegyric. So I will say that the parental figures in the book are the least convincing, and in particular Caddy's parents. These two are pushy, helicopter types who want Caddy to be a high achiever but pay little attention to her emotional wellbeing. It's not unexpected that they try to warn Caddy off Suzanne, but they are incredibly coy about why they are warning her off. It's clear they know more about Suzanne than they are prepared to share with Caddy and they speak to her as though she is a small child from whom the truth must be hidden. They really didn't ring true to me. Caddy is sixteen, not five, and this felt like more of a device to allow Suzanne's backstory to come through slowly than it did anything about the way real parents would behave. But this is a tiny moan both because the parents are simply the background for the three protagonists and because it is dwarfed by the book's many achievements.

Barnard herself says her book is a love story without a romance because there’s no love quite like that shared between teenage girls. I loved the idea of a platonic love story and we need stories in praise of these intense, life-forming relationships. We have enough mean girl tales that make all of teenage life look like Lord of the Flies. We don't tell the other side nearly often enough: we're too busy mocking teenage girls and their fandoms and their enthusiasms as lightweight or needy. We forget the safe spaces girls create for themselves, we forget the valuable and supportive sisterhoods formed and, above all, we forget the love.

Beautiful Broken Things refuses to put its three protagonists into stereotypical boxes. It skilfully navigates the complex family relationships that surround abusive situations. And it paints an accurate and realistic but sympathetic picture of mental ill health. But above all, it is a powerful and life-affirming story of female friendship. I hope it is rapturously received. Because it deserves to be.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher talks about the aftermath of suicide and also explores the reasons why people do what they do in a powerful way. Blood Family by Anne Fine is another powerful story about surviving abuse.

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