Beauty of the Broken, by Tawni Waters
Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster (Sept 2014/Paperback: Aug. 2015)
Page Count: 368 pages
Genre: Lesbian (F/F) Young Adult Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Summary: Growing up in conservative small-town New Mexico, fifteen-year-old Mara was never given the choice to be different. Her parents— an abusive, close-minded father and a detached alcoholic mother— raised Mara to be like all the other girls in Barnaby: God-fearing, churchgoing, and straight. Mara wants nothing to do with any of it. She feels most at home with her best friend and older brother, Iggy, but Iggy hasn’t been the same since their father beat him and put him in the hospital with a concussion.
As Mara’s mother feeds her denial with bourbon and Iggy struggles with his own demons, Mara finds an escape with her classmate Xylia. A San Francisco transplant, Xylia is everything Mara dreams of being: free-spirited, open, wild. The closer Mara and Xylia become, the more Mara feels for her— even though their growing relationship is very much forbidden in Barnaby. Just as Mara begins to live a life she’s only imagined, the girls’ secret is threatened with exposure and Mara’s world is thrown into chaos.
My Thoughts: An absolutely heart-wrenching story about abuse, love, and defining yourself, Beauty of the Broken is a gorgeous bildungsroman set in a small town where being different means being cast out– or worse. The novel, told in Mara’s own voice, is haunting, and the point-blank descriptions of her encounters with her father, the local pastor, and schoolmates is enough to send a chill down your spine.
The story follows Mara from the day her brother is beaten to near-death by their abusive father. After ending up in the hospital with a concussion, Iggy is unable to function as the boy he once was, and this catalyst sets in motion a series of events for Mara, forcing her to question everything about the people who would allow such abuse to happen.
While the story itself is lyrical, I really struggled to connect with the characters. Mara was not a very engaging character, and her relationship with Xylia was secondary to everything else that was going on. I was able to enjoy the story, but it was just superficial; I couldn’t make myself engage emotionally, because I just didn’t care enough about the various characters. Actually, I think the character I enjoyed the most was Henry, who didn’t fit in physically and had such a bizarre home life.
In the end, the romance was not much of a romance at all. Also, the ending was extremely unsatisfactory, but I can’t go into more detail without touching on spoilers. I’m also wondering about the trend in YA fiction of tragic/depressing stories? As a reader, I generally want a HEA, where the main character overcomes the abuse or horrific event to emerge stronger and happier.
It’s still a beautiful novel, and I’m sure other people were better able to relate and enjoy the characters. But Mara’s characterization and narration just didn’t do it for me, even though the story was an excellent one.
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