Breakdown by Sarah Mussi

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Breakdown by Sarah Mussi

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Tanja Jennings
Reviewed by Tanja Jennings
Summary: A tense, futuristic dystopian thriller set in the bleak wasteland of 2084 and rich in mythological references. Mussi creates a feisty heroine to believe in and readers will root for Melissa to escape her hellish nightmare and find paradise. A compelling read. Some swearing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 418 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Hot Key Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781471401916

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From the start of Breakdown Mussi painfully grips the reader by the hand and doesn’t let go. She uses short, sharp, savage sentences to urge them to follow her protagonist Melissa on a terrifying odyssey into a relentlessly brutal world where only the meanest, smartest and toughest survive. It is a horrific vision of a post-apocalyptic, lawless society devastated by nuclear radiation, set 100 years after Orwell’s bleak 1984, driven feral by food shortages, frenzied fear, poverty, corrupt militarisation and anarchy. Ravenous dogs roam the streets and the stench of violence and sexual slavery is never far away. Melissa is blessed with beauty which some might consider a curse. Will she emerge into the light or be trapped in Hades forever?

Mussi effortlessly weaves references from Greek mythology into her story as Melissa shares an italicised inner dialogue, recalling her grandmother’s advice and explaining that she is named after the mountain nymph who cared for Zeus. In this way she lets the reader into her secret. Destined to regenerate the souls of men she is tenacious like the honeybee in her story (a recurring motif adorning each chapter). It is her words that she uses as weapons when she encounters the desperate, dangerous and vicious gangers led by the malevolent Careem and his malignant sidekick Kaylem. Caught up in their slimy maelstrom are the handsome outsider Tarquin and his vulnerable brother Lenny who has a simple dream (shades of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men) and whom Melissa may or may not care for. The question is will survival instinct outweigh the need for decent human company or perhaps even love?

I will not lie to you. There are some parts of this book that are disturbing and sickening but they are not gratuitous. The quality of the writing, the emotive language, the evocative imagery and the sharp wits of the beleaguered characters drive you on to the heart-in-the-mouth conclusion. Mussi juggles elements of shock with surprise and fear creating a page turner which puts the reader through an emotional thunderstorm.

The words have an urgent drum beat (So cold. I can’t kick. Can’t swim. Can’t thrash) to match the perilous situations faced by the protagonists. Nail biting set pieces include a plunge into a river, a terrifying dog attack, a spine chilling journey underground, Melissa’s battle of wits with the degenerate and lascivious General and a death defying leap into the unknown. What does Melissa’s grandmother want Melissa to have? Where is Games City? What is the Blah-Blah? What lie does Melissa tell to stay safe? Why are there no children in the mining village? Who can she trust? Will she make the right decision? For all these answers and more read the book. It is an intense experience which will leave you breathless.

For more resourceful characters battling against the odds in a dystopian society dive into the internecine "survival of the fittest" Panem of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, immerse yourself in the chilling, thought provoking world of Unwind by Neal Shusterman, experience the gripping The Declaration by Gemma Malley and join Triss for some death defying action in Divergent by Veronica Roth. Alternatively if you would like a refresher course on Greek mythology why not dip into Greek Myths by Ann Turnbull and Sarah Young and Greek Myths: Stories of Sun, Stone and Sea by Sally Pomme Clayton.

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