Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
|Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Completely gorgeous. Valentine comes right out of left field in her kitchen sink dramas with a twist. Broken Soup has a tremendously sympathetic and engaging central character and huge dollops of intense love and pain. It's easy to read, but never simple. This book has it all in under three hundred pages.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: January 2008|
|Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
When the strange but handsome boy with an American accent accosts Rowan in the convenience store, the world stops for a horrible moment of embarrassment. Everyone's looking. He's gorgeous. She's maladroit. The negative he's trying to give her isn't hers. In the end, Rowan takes it, desperate to get back below the radar. Rowan likes it below the radar. She doesn't want to be noticed. There's too much at stake. What if anyone notices that her mother's not coping since Jack died? What if someone says six-year-old Stroma is too young to be looked after by her fifteen-year-old sister, even a sister as competent as Rowan? What if her temporarily absent father notices? He'll never return to a wife in the midst of a nervous breakdown. And then the family won't be simply Jack-less, it'll be Dad-less permanently. It'll be Mum-less, Rowan-less, Stroma-less. There won't be a family at all. Under the radar is good.
But when her friend Bee develops a photo from the mysterious negative, the unimaginable appears and it seems as though life just hasn't finished throwing crap at Rowan....
If you remember, I loved Jenny Valentine's debut novel, Finding Violet Park. And so did just about everybody else who read it. It won the Guardian Children's Fiction prize and a host of other awards. I was crossing everything in the hopes her next novel would be as good. When Broken Soup arrived, I worried a little. It looked so similar, too similar. Courageous but tortured adolescent attempts to mend broken family. Add in quirky mystery thread on the side to make a bittersweet kitchen sink drama rather than a plain miserable one. End on a remarkable plot twist. From the press sheet it seemed as though Valentine had simply replaced a male central character with a female one. But not so.
Yes; Finding Violet Park was all those things above. And yes, so is Broken Soup. However, the central characters are very different and the quirky plot thread has an entirely different structural effect. I completely fell in love with Rowan, the bright, introspective girl battling to keep her shrinking family unit going and inching her way toward a bittersweet first love affair. There's nothing sentimental about this book and there's nothing sentimental about Rowan. She's stubborn and secretive - two hallmarks of the adolescent most parents will recognise. She's searingly honest with herself and through her, we feel worlds of pain and love and loneliness and anticipation. Without ever labouring points or sinking into sloppy schmaltz, Valentine injects an intensity of feeling in Broken Soup that blew me away.
They made me stand on a cliff edge of left-out-ness. All the glow of the morning leaked out of the day and into the ground. It was a better way than usual to fall asleep.
You see? Broken Soup is full of such phrases, the understated accents here and there, always proving that less is more. It's completely gorgeous. I loved it.
My thanks to the nice people at Harper Collins for sending the book and more to the point, to Jenny Valentine for writing it.
Those who like their realism tempered with a tiny dose of out-of-the-ordinary might also enjoy Nigel Richardson's The Rope Ladder.
Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine is in the Costa Book Awards 2008.
Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.
You can read more book reviews or buy Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine at Amazon.com.
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