“Beautiful Broken Things” by Sara Barnard

Sorry that I didn’t put up a review on Wednesday. In recent weeks I’ve been reading a lot and reviewing only a little, and when I found myself in a brief reading slump without any reviews already written, I didn’t have the energy to bash one out at the last minute. However, I’ve read multiple books this week that I want to review, so hopefully I can avoid a repeat of that for a little while.

It's also gorgeous and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of it.

It’s also gorgeous and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of it.

Beautiful Broken Things isn’t my usual kind of book, because it’s YA contemporary. My aversion to contemporary novels is largely due to the fact that they seem always to focus on romance, so when I saw this on the shelves at the library and it said it was about the complexities of female friendship, I decided to give it a go anyway.

This certainly isn’t escapist literature: it felt true, and horribly real.

Objections I have seen to this book include that Caddy was a boring narrator / protagonist. It’s true that Caddy, despite her weird name (Cadnam), is a very normal character. She’s shy and awkward and anxious, not in a cute way, but in a stressful way. She does enough work to get As and Bs at school, so she’s neither on the edge of failing nor absolutely outstanding. She wishes something interesting could happen to her, although her definition of interesting is not necessarily positive.

Like a lot of sixteen-year-old girls, she’s interested in finding a boyfriend and maybe losing her virginity, but thankfully this didn’t dominate the story — I think I would have found it hard to relate to that. Instead, it’s about the complications of friendship and having two close friends who are also friends with each other and what that can do to your relationship with both. It’s also about mental illness, which I thought was handled sensitively but not sentimentally.

I’m not sure if I can convey exactly why this book had such a profound impact on me. I agree, the characters make bad life choices. I made bad life choices when I was fifteen/sixteen too. Okay, so I didn’t drink and wasn’t interested in sex, but that doesn’t mean I don’t regret some of the decisions I made back then. I agree that the characters were sometimes insensitive, or bitchy, or selfish. So was I. I can hardly criticise Caddy when most of her flaws were or are also mine.

But that’s just it. It felt real. It didn’t feel like a caricature. The characters were flawed and human. The friendships were profound and meaningful while also being at times unhealthy or prone to random arguments. Even the characters’ school lives seemed familiar — they actually had to do work, and their parents paid attention to whether or not they were at home.

Maybe it’s because it felt so real and relatable that I got so emotionally invested: there’s one part of the book where I could barely breathe until I knew how something turned out, as though I was waiting for news of someone I actually knew. I wasn’t expecting to care that much, but I did.

The use of texts and Facebook in YA novels is so often really cringey and poorly done — maybe because this is recent, it didn’t feel like that, because it wasn’t outdated. Instead it gave an immediacy to the story, as well as providing some contrast in narrative style.

I don’t know why I liked this so much, but I did. I got so into it, emotionally, and I got to the end of it feeling like I’d been on a journey. All the criticisms I’ve seen have been valid, but only in the sense that Caddy isn’t ‘main character’ material, and that’s the whole point. One review I saw said that Suzanne should have been the focus of the story, which I think reflects Caddy’s view exactly. She doesn’t think she’s interesting or messed up enough to be at the centre of anything, and that’s what makes her so real.

On Goodreads I gave it 4.5 stars and rounded up to five; I think I’m going to round down to 4 here simply because I rate slightly different here than elsewhere. I don’t know if I’ll seek out Sara Barnard’s future books — as I’ve said, I don’t usually read contemporary, though I’ve read a few recently. But I’ll certainly keep an eye out for them.

Rating: ****

Find ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ on Amazon (UK)

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