I’m sure I must have realised this was a young adult (YA) novel when I requested it, but it wasn’t until I opened Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard that I remembered.
I have no problem with YA novels but don’t actually read many. So it was with great surprise I discovered I LOVED this book.Beautiful Broken Things
by Sara Barnard
Published by Macmillan Children's Books (UK)
on February 11th 2016
Genres: Literary Fiction, Young Adult
ISBN: 150980353X / 9781509803538
Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting.
Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated.
As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be.
But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.
Did I mention I loved this book? Indeed, I loved almost everything about it.
The characters were realistic and complex and Barnard really nails their teenage voices.
The book’s written in first person from Caddy’s point of view, so it’s only natural we relate to her the most. And she’s delightful.
She and Rosie very much remind me of my own childhood and friends – good kids eager to experience life and desperate for adulthood (oblivious to the responsibility that comes with it).
In fact, at 16 years of age, Caddy bemoans her lack of Significant Life Events – both good and bad – and feels her life is lacking as a result.
The arrival of Suzanne into Caddy and Rosie’s life changes everything. She’s a stark contrast to the lifelong best friends who are both drawn to the charismatic newcomer.
Barnard does a great job with Suzanne’s character. It would have been tempting to overplay Suzanne’s personality and sensationalise her backstory. Instead we – along with Caddy – slowly learn more and more about the ‘damaged’ young woman who’s come to live with her aunt after a family crisis.
Barnard also does a great job on the adults in the girls’ lives – particularly Caddy’s parents and sister and Suzanne’s aunt.
Caddy’s mother is a counsellor (or social worker or similar) so very in tune with her daughters and their friends. Whereas Caddy’s father, well… he has expectations and isn’t afraid to remind her of that.
Making me feel inadequate isn’t exactly a sign of love, I thought, but I kept the words inside my head, where they belonged. P 75
The story itself
The novel is essentially about the arrival of Suzanne and impact it has on Caddy and Rosie. Suzanne’s beautiful and had far more life experience than her new best friends. Caddy – in particular – is insanely jealous of Suzanne, before falling under her spell.
I’m not really giving away anything by sharing that Suzanne comes from an abusive home and we eventually learn why her father takes his frustration out on her rather than her mother and older brother.
Barnard allows Suzanne to slowly unburden herself in a way that doesn’t sensationalise or diminish what she’s been through.
It’s not so much that they hurt you; it’s that they don’t care that you’re hurt. That’s the bit that… stays. p 273
We’re given hints (via Suzanne’s aunt and her friendship with Caddy’s mother), as to the extent of Suzanne’s struggle, but (ironically) the newcomer is so nervous about disappointing or shocking Caddy that she keeps much of her true self hidden.
Friendship is a key theme of this novel. I know people who think 3-way friendships never work as there’s always someone left out. I’m not sure this is the case, but it’s certainly a minefield under negotiation here. But despite that we’re reminded how powerful and affirming friendship can be.
The unfairness of it was starting to sink in. If she could only see herself like I did, there wouldn’t be a problem. But she didn’t, and she never would, and that was so many levels of wrong and unfair I almost couldn’t comprehend it. p 322
Unsurprisingly – for a novel about teenage girls and young women – confidence and self-worth also feature strongly. In fact, for me this was integral.
Caddy has an older sister. And though (to me) Tarin is far from perfect, Caddy wonders if she’ll ever be able to shake the feeling she’ll never be as good as her sister who had “shone her whole life on her own merit.”
I grew up with an exceedingly high-achieving brother and though I think I felt proud rather than resentful, it never entered my mind I’d measure up to his achievements. I’m fairly sure I didn’t even see any point in trying.
This concept of being ‘enough’ featured again and again and very much resonated with me.
This novel is beautifully written. It’s addictive in many ways. Readers are swept up in this story of the girls, wrapped effortlessly in informal but lyrical – almost mesmerising – prose.
The use of social media references and significant use of text (SMS) messaging works really well. And – very importantly – their conversations felt very real. I could hear the girls’ voices through their messaging, emails and conversations. I laughed, sighed and occasionally cringed. And I most certainly cried.
So… in case you didn’t get it the first two times… I loved this beautiful book and can’t recommend it highly enough.
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available.
I received a copy of this book for review purposes.
** I should mention this book features and discusses self-harm. **